What does the color of my stool mean?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Pooping is a natural body process, so it makes sense that changes in texture or color could have negative implications for your health. Check the color of your poop to ensure digestive health:
  • Brown poop of any shade is normal.
  • White or clay-colored poop indicates a lack of bile in the stool -- which could be a sign of pancreatic cancer.
  • Black poop may be indicative of bleeding in the esophagus or stomach.
  • Red poop may indicate bleeding in your rectum and the presence of a polyp.

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Robynne K. Chutkan, MD
The color of stool can vary dramatically and can also be a clue as to whether various disease states are present.

Normal stool is brown due to its composition: bacteria, water, bile, bilirubin, broken-down red blood cells and indigestible plant matter like cellulose, along with small amounts of protein and fat.

Red stool is most worrisome as it indicates bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract from conditions like hemorrhoids or diverticulosis, or more serious conditions like rectal cancer. Red stool can also be caused by ingesting red food coloring or beets. While it should always be reported, it's not always an ominous sign.

Green stool can occur with rapid transit through the intestines where bile doesn't have a chance to be broken down to its final brown color. Green can also be a sign of Crohn's disease, antibiotic use, ingestion of leafy greens or iron therapy.
Yellow stool can be the result of gallbladder dysfunction which causes improper handling of bile. Infection with giardia lamblia produces a characteristic yellow diarrhea. In addition to causing diarrhea, different types of infection in the GI tract, whether viral, bacterial or parasitic, may cause changes in stool color.

White stool can be a sign of fat malabsorption, as with pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, but barium used for X-rays can also give the same appearance. Mucus in the stool can give it a whitish appearance and may be due to inflammation or benign conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Black stool should trigger a search for bleeding from the upper part of the GI tract (esophagus, stomach or small intestine), but can also be seen with iron therapy, heavy meat consumption, and bismuth-containing compounds.

Light-appearing clay-colored stools are characteristic of liver disease and decreased bile output, but can also be caused by antacids containing aluminum hydroxide. Vitamins and supplements commonly cause changes in urine color but may also change stool color.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Reporting for "doody," Dr. Ellie Sattler plunges her hand into a pile of brontosaurus stool to find out what's ailing the sick old beast in Jurassic Park. But she could have spared herself the up-close-and-personal if she had known how to read the colors of caca -- when your body's gastrointestinal tract isn’t functioning correctly, stool colors can tell you what’s going on in your insides and whether you might have bowel problems. Here's a guide:
  • Medium brown is the color of healthy poop.
  • Pale, gray, clay-like stool suggests a liver problem. Bile from the liver is what makes stools brown; not enough and you get ashy shades indicating anything from gallstones to hepatitis, pancreatitis to cirrhosis.
  • Black or dull red stool sounds scary, but is often related to food or meds. You may see black after consuming black licorice, blueberries, iron pills, or Pepto-Bismol (call your doc if you see tarry black poop, which can be a sign of bleeding in the upper intestines or even the stomach). And red? That may come from beets and tomatoes.
  • Green stools aren't just for St. Patrick's Day, although they can be from celebratory beer (it's the green dye). Greenies can also come from eating lots of green vegetables or taking iron or certain medications.
  • Bloody or maroon/red poop is most often caused by hemorrhoids, but can also be from intestinal bleeding, so call your doc if you're having it.
If you’re worried about any other colors you're dropping, keep a three- to seven-day record and share the shades with your doctor.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.