Stools that are pale, clay, or putty-colored may be due to problems in the biliary system. The biliary system is the drainage system of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas.
The liver releases bile salts into the stool, giving it a normal brown color. You may have clay-colored stools if you have a liver infection that reduces bile production, or if the flow of bile out of the liver is blocked.
Yellow skin (jaundice) often occurs with clay-colored stools. This may be due to the buildup of bile chemicals in the body.
Possible causes for clay-colored stools include:
There may be other causes not listed here.
Contact your health care provider if your stools are not the normal brown color for several days.
The provider will perform a physical exam. They will ask questions about your medical history and symptoms. Questions may include:
Tests that may be done include:
Korenblat KM, Berk PD. Approach to the patient with jaundice or abnormal liver tests. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 138.
Lidofsky SD. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 21.
Marks RA, Saxena R. Liver diseases of childhood. In: Saxena R, ed. Practical Hepatic Pathology: A Diagnostic Approach. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 5.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 7/30/2022
Reviewed By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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