Pale Stool Diagnosis
Stools or faeces, should normally be a brown colour, but sometimes pale or clay-coloured stools are passed. If it happens to one stool or only occasionally then there is no cause for worry, but if they are persistently very pale, or yellow in colour and look greasy then it is time to seek medical help.
The likely cause is a problem in the drainage system of the gall bladder, liver or pancreas. Bile is created in the gall bladder and then released into the first section of the small intestine known as the duodenum while food is passed through.
It is the bile which gives the stool its brown colour so if the bile is not getting through the bile duct because of a blockage, or there is an infection of the liver, the stools passed look as pale as clay.
Pale stools are often accompanied by jaundice, a yellowish tinge to the skin and the white of the eyes. This is caused by a build up of bile in the body.
If there is a problem with the digestive system and it is not absorbing fat properly then the stools will appear yellow or pale grey.
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Biliary cirrhosis
- Birth defect
- Hepatitis A, B or C
- Side effects from medication
- Gallstones blocking the bile duct.
To discover the underlying cause of the pale stools and the jaundiced look the doctor will need to know the patient's full medical history, what medication they are on and any operations they have had.
The patient may have to undergo one or more of the following tests
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Blood Test
- Liver Function Test
- In extreme cases an exploratory operation to look for defects in the biliary tract.
This will depend on the cause of the change of colour in the stools. If the cause is due to fats not being absorbed properly, the doctor may preserve a change of diet and advise which vitamin supplements should be taken.
If the cause is a blocked bile duct it might require an operation to open the duct, but if the pale stools are a symptom of an underlying condition such as hepatitis, the doctor will treat the condition. The stools will revert back to their normal brown colour as the patient recovers.
If the blockage has been caused by gallstones the doctor may tell the patient that they will work their way out of the body, or if the pain is too severe an operation may be needed to remove them. Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball and each case is different.