Yellow feces: what does it mean?

What determines the color of stool?

The color of stool is largely due to the presence of bilirubin, which is part of bile. It is released in the liver during the destruction of red blood cells, from where it enters the duodenum in the form of bile. The bolus of food moves through the small intestine, where food is absorbed. In the colon, water is absorbed, bilirubin is oxidized to stercobillin (it is what causes the darkening of stool), and formed stool is obtained from food debris, digestive enzymes and fragments.

By the color of stool you can judge what exactly a person ate and how well the digestion process went. The appearance of yellow stool in an adult is possible in the following cases:

  • eating certain foods
  • taking certain medications,
  • violation of the motor and excretory functions of the intestine,
  • metabolic disorder,
  • after alcohol,
  • diseases of the liver, gall bladder, pancreas.

The color variations of yellow feces in children and adults are different, depending on the specific cause - from white-yellow shades to rich golden or bright orange.

Discolored stool


27763 August 25


The information in this section cannot be used for self-diagnosis and self-treatment.
In case of pain or other exacerbation of the disease, diagnostic tests should be prescribed only by the attending physician. To make a diagnosis and properly prescribe treatment, you should contact your doctor. The color of stool depends on the amount of bile pigments (products of the breakdown of hemoglobin), coloring substances contained in food and medications, admixtures of fresh or clotted blood, and metabolic products of microorganisms living in the intestines.

In the absence of strongly coloring food pigments, the color of stool is normally light to dark brown.

Stercobilin, a breakdown product of bilirubin, gives stool its brown color. A change in the color of stool from light green to yellowish-gray can occur with various diseases.

If bilirubin does not enter the gastrointestinal tract for any reason, the stool will become discolored. Such feces are called acholic. Discolored stool can have a different consistency, which is determined by the amount of water consumed, plant fiber, intestinal tone and other factors. These factors are taken into account when diagnosing liver diseases.

Possible reasons

Damage to the hepatic and bile ducts

If the patency of the hepatic ducts is impaired cholestasis
, which is characterized by acholic feces. Cholestasis can be caused by blockage of the ducts with small stones (cholelithiasis), blood clots, parasites (with opisthorchiasis, fascioliasis, clonorchiasis), and can also be a consequence of congenital anomalies, cicatricial stenosis, and the presence of tumors of the bile ducts. The lumen of the common bile duct may be narrowed due to tumor growth, due to inflammation and cysts of the pancreas, recurrent cholangitis, lymphadenitis due to tuberculosis, sarcoidosis, or be a consequence of surgical treatment and adhesions. In all cases, the flow of bile from the liver is impaired.

Symptoms of cholestasis are: skin itching, jaundice, discoloration of stool and dark urine; severe cases are manifested by a flu-like condition (chills and fever).
Sclerosing cholangitis
is a pathology that is also accompanied by discoloration of stool due to a violation of the outflow of bile. With this disease, sclerosis of the bile ducts occurs (replacement of healthy organ tissue with scar connective fibers) due to inflammatory processes.

Sclerosing cholangitis in most cases is accompanied by inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease).

Patients develop jaundice of the skin, mucous membranes and sclera, itching, weakness and fatigue, weight loss, impaired motor activity due to limited mobility of the limbs (symptoms of osteoporosis).

Functional disorders of the biliary tract

. Functional dysmotility of the biliary tract - biliary dyskinesia - is one of the most common causes of changes in the color of stool. This is due to a narrowing (muscle spasm) of the lumen of the bile ducts and duodenal papilla, which regulates the flow of bile into the intestine.

Spasm can occur due to hormonal disorders, systemic diseases, pain, or after surgical interventions. In this case, the stool discoloration will not be permanent. The stool becomes light only after spastic attacks, and during the period of resumption of motility of the biliary tract, its color returns to normal.

Considering that the brown tint of stool is caused by bile pigments, any process of disruption of their synthesis or entry into the gastrointestinal tract is accompanied by a change in the color of the stool. Discolored feces do not always indicate illness: with excessive consumption of fatty foods

the usual amount of bile is not enough to process all the absorbed fats, and the feces become light in color.
In some infectious diseases
(cholera, salmonellosis, dysentery),
digestive disorders
(inadequate absorption of nutrients, irritable bowel syndrome), increased intestinal motility leads to the rapid movement of feces, which do not have time to change color.

If discolored feces persistently form, diseases of the hepatobiliary system (liver, gallbladder, hepatic and bile ducts, sphincter of Oddi) should be suspected.

Degenerative-inflammatory liver diseases (hepatitis of various etiologies, cirrhosis) affect the synthesis and metabolism of bile pigments and bilirubin, which is often manifested by uncolored feces.

Damage to liver cells (hepatocytes)

. Hepatocytes that produce bile can die under the influence of many factors.

The infectious nature of liver diseases should be considered first.

viruses enter the blood, an acute infectious disease develops, which is manifested by high fever, nausea, vomiting, heaviness and pain in the right hypochondrium, a yellow coloration of the sclera appears (icterus), urine darkens, and feces become discolored.
When infected with hepatitis B and C viruses,
the process often becomes chronic. The incubation period for hepatitis C can be up to six months, and in the acute period of the disease, symptoms resemble a respiratory infection. Chronic viral hepatitis B and C, if left untreated, can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis can be accompanied by cytomegalovirus infection, diseases of herpes viral etiology, infectious mononucleosis (caused by the Epstein-Barr virus).

Currently, alcoholic hepatitis


Ethyl alcohol products and its metabolites have a direct damaging effect on liver cells.

The chronic course of alcoholic liver disease ends with massive replacement of hepatocytes by connective tissue with complete loss of their functions. In the clinical picture, the main complaints are heaviness and characteristic pain in the right hypochondrium, which can radiate to the arm, shoulder blade, and lumbar region. Yellowness of the skin develops, the sclera develops, feces become discolored, urine darkens, and signs of encephalopathy appear. In the last stages of alcoholic illness, cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, bleeding from varicose veins of the esophagus, etc. develop.

Among the toxins that have a destructive effect on liver cells

, include plant poisons (some mushrooms, bittersweet and groundsel juice) and industrial chemicals (phosphorus, arsenic, organochlorines, phenols, pesticides). Many drugs (anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antituberculosis, anticonvulsants) change the functional activity of hepatocytes, which affects the color of stool.

Liver cells die due to oxygen starvation caused by circulatory failure and oxygen deficiency in the blood. With hepatic cell failure syndrome, a dysfunction of hepatocytes occurs, which is accompanied by general intoxication of the body.

Diagnostics and examination

For complaints of discolored, acholic stools, diagnosis includes physical and laboratory tests.

Information about the functioning of the liver and gallbladder is provided by general blood and urine tests; biochemical blood test (aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase, alkaline phosphatase, bilirubin, glucose, amylase and lipase).

Yellow stool without complaints

If you notice lightening of the feces without any deterioration in your health, remember what exactly you ate 1–2 days ago.
Eating a variety of foods requires long-term processing, and dark brown feces are released. If your diet is characterized by a predominance of products of plant or dairy origin, this is always reflected in the color of the stool. The main foods that can turn stool yellow are:

  • orange, carrots, melon, dried apricots, yellow apples, persimmons, pear (feces become orange),
  • Dairy products in large quantities (light brown feces),
  • peas,
  • bakery products for gluten intolerance (celiac disease).

If you have not had a craving for such food in recent days, then perhaps the yellow color of your stool is due to some medications. Yellowing of stool, as a side effect, is observed when taking antibiotics, anti-tuberculosis drugs, laxatives (Magnesium Sulfite, Senade), birth control pills, anti-gout drugs (Allopurinol), anti-inflammatory drugs, Fortrans.

The appearance of yellow stool in an adult is associated with the rapid passage of food (stressful situations, neuroses, depression) or a large amount of feces passing through the intestines per day.

In this case, a relative deficiency of the coloring pigment bilirubin occurs and yellow feces are released, sometimes with a greenish tint.

Fortrans is prescribed before the colonoscopy procedure. Yellow color of stool is normal. This drug has an enema effect when taken orally with large amounts of liquid. Gradually, the stool becomes lighter, and at the end yellow water is released.

Factors influencing the appearance of yellow stool

Stercobilin, a derivative of bilirubin, gives stool a typical red-brown hue. If there is not enough stercobilin in the body, the stool becomes yellow. The main reason for low stercobilin levels is a deficiency of bilirubin due to stool passing too quickly through the intestines or due to too much feces. Bilirubin is produced in the liver as a result of the conversion of hemoglobin, which moves oxygen from the blood to the internal organs. If pathological processes occur in the liver, much less bilirubin is produced than normal.

Factors influencing changes in stool color:

  • Liver diseases.

    Liver diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatitis (as well as gallbladder disorders) can reduce the amount of bile salts produced in the body. The combination of yellow stool with a change in its consistency is a sign of a deficiency of bile salts in the body, infection, or impaired liver function.

    Viral, autoimmune or toxic hepatitis can also cause yellow stool. Most often these changes are caused by a viral infection. Yellowing of the stool causes mononucleosis, a disease whose symptoms are detected after a blood test.

  • Diseases of the pancreas.

    Conditions such as pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, and a blocked pancreatic duct can cause yellow or pale stools.

    A pale yellow tint to feces may appear after eating large amounts of fatty foods for a long time. In this case, the feces acquire an extremely unpleasant odor. This reaction of the body to fatty foods may indicate a dysfunction of the pancreas.

  • Cytomegalovirus.

    Cytomegalovirus infection can leave its mark on the functioning of the liver, as can infection with rubella, mumps, and alcohol abuse.

  • Intestinal disorders.

    A change in the consistency of feces often accompanies intestinal disorders caused by the introduction of infection into the human body.

    Stress has also been shown to influence the occurrence of irritable bowel syndrome. Stress control is a fairly important factor [1] (on the topic: 10 ways to relieve stress).

  • Celiac disease.

    If a person with celiac disease eats gluten (the protein in wheat, rye and barley), their immune system attacks this undigested protein, including the tissue in the small intestine, damaging it and impairing the ability to absorb nutrients.

    According to the National Celiac Disease Foundation, more than 300 different symptoms are associated with celiac disease. This makes diagnosis difficult. [2]

  • Giardiasis

    is a common intestinal infection caused by a microscopic parasite. One of the symptoms of giardiasis is foul-smelling yellow diarrhea.

  • Yellow products.

    Carrots (especially fresh carrot juice), sweet potatoes, turmeric and other yellow foods can turn your stool yellow. If you regularly have yellow stools due to your diet, then you should avoid fatty and processed foods, as well as gluten. In addition, yellowing of the stool may be a side effect of taking medications with a high content of β-carotene.

A change in the color of stool from green to yellow can be observed when the intestines are infected, because the rate of transport of digested foods through the intestines in this case is extremely high. In this case, the feces do not have time to acquire their usual color. Another reason why stool turns yellow is a deficiency of bile in the body.

Digestive difficulties: causes and treatment

If, along with the appearance of yellow stool, you have a stomach ache, or have complaints such as flatulence (boiling in the intestines), diarrhea or difficulty defecating, poor appetite, bitterness in the mouth, then this means the presence of serious disorders. It is especially dangerous if the pain is paroxysmal. Often these symptoms occur after eating fatty foods and alcohol.

A number of possible reasons for such complaints:

  • hepatitis of any origin,
  • fermentative dyspepsia,
  • gallbladder diseases,
  • compression of the bile duct,
  • biliary dyskinesia,
  • pathology of the pancreas,
  • chronic constipation,
  • metabolic diseases.

The liver is considered the laboratory of our body. It not only synthesizes various necessary substances, but also neutralizes toxic toxins and substances (for example, alcohol).

When it is damaged or overloaded, one or several functions may suffer.

Problems with the liver disrupt the processing of bilirubin, and it enters the intestines unprocessed. Such bilirubin is a bad dye, so light yellow, loose feces can often be released after alcohol.

Poorly digested pale gray feces are a common occurrence in people who eat very fatty meat products (usually men) or starchy carbohydrate foods (usually women). This disorder is called dyspepsia. Putrefactive dyspepsia is a “failure” in the breakdown of proteins. Carbohydrates that have not undergone the necessary enzymatic treatment cause fermentative dyspepsia. Fermented or rotten substances are absorbed in the intestines and have a toxic effect on the entire body. The cause of this disorder may be associated with any digestive organ.

Lack of digestive enzymes

Colorless or yellow-white feces are observed when the process of bile entering the intestines is disrupted. Moreover, the more serious the problem, the lighter the stool. Obstructions can be all the way from the gallbladder to the duodenum. Impaired bile expulsion occurs in the following cases:

  • dyskinesia of the gallbladder (too strong or, conversely, weak contraction),
  • constipation (creates tension in the intestinal wall, making it difficult to secrete bile),
  • cholecystitis,
  • condition after removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy),
  • stones in the gallbladder or its ducts,
  • compression of the bile duct by the enlarged head of the pancreas (tumor, edema, inflammation) lying next door.

A characteristic combination of these disorders is light yellow stool and dark urine. This means that bilirubin, instead of entering the intestines, is absorbed into the blood and excreted in the urine.

After removal of the gallbladder, the control of bile flow is impaired, so some portions of stool may be lighter than others. With cholecystitis, as well as cholelithiasis, in addition to the discharge of yellow-white feces, sharp pain is observed under the ribs on the right side after alcohol or fatty foods.

When consuming a large amount of fats or their breakdown is impaired (decreased activity of the pancreas), we observe loose yellow feces with the presence of a gray coating. This type of fatty, oily stool is called steatorrhea. Undigested fat in the intestines envelops the food bolus and prevents enzymes from breaking down proteins and carbohydrates. Therefore, with steatorrhea, creatorrhea often occurs - insufficient digestion of muscle fibers. Feces with pancreatitis have a characteristic shade of gray-green color and are almost not washed off.

Unhealthy gut?

Among the intestinal causes that lead to changes in the color of stool in an adult, Crohn's disease stands out. This is an autoimmune disease in which ulcers form in the intestinal mucosa. Crohn's disease is characterized by yellow-gray mushy stool, often foul-smelling with white flecks. If you see balls or lumps in white stool, and the stool is formed, then the reasons for such inclusions may also be:

  • inflammation of the colon (mucus with white inclusions),
  • antibiotics,
  • candidiasis (veins of fungal colonies resemble a whitish coating),
  • dead pinworms.

Pasty stool in adults is observed with intestinal infections of viral origin. The most common causative agent of this infection is rotavirus. You can “catch” it by consuming dairy products or by contact with a sick person. Rotavirus also causes acute respiratory infections, so you can get sick by getting infected by sneezing. The disease begins as a regular flu, and then the same symptoms occur as with gastritis or enteritis. This is seething in the stomach, with pain of unclear location and varying intensity, belching. In addition, high fever occurs, and most importantly, vomiting and diarrhea.

Purchasing coloring

Normal - brown stool is caused by breakdown products of the bile pigment bilirubin. When excreted with bile into the small intestine, it is partially converted into colorless urobilinogen, and then in the large intestine through the stercobilinogen stage it becomes brown stercobilin. Another stool-coloring product of bilirubin metabolism is called mesobilifuscin. If the stool turns yellow, it indicates problems with digesting food and separating bile. Sometimes color changes are considered normal and occur due to dietary habits, under the influence of medications, and at certain periods of a person’s life.

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