Causes Of Red, Black, Green, Orange, or Pale Stool

When Is The Color Of Your Stool Considered Abnormal?

Popsicle
Do you eat gummy bears, sports drinks, or other brightly-colored foods? Those could be causing a change in your stool color. But if you also have pain, diarrhea, constipation, or other symptoms with the strange colors, you should see your doctor. Image © Getty Images

Discovering that your stools are black, red, green, orange, or clay-colored can be a scary experience, especially if it has never happened to you before. When your bowel movements are out of the ordinary in color, consistency, or frequency, it is called a "change in bowel habits." Some common changes in bowel habits include diarrhea, constipation, or an unusual coloration. Most people experience one of these changes in their stool at one time or another in their lives, but typically it's only for a few days and the problem goes away on its own.

In most cases, an unusual stool color is harmless and can be attributed to a particular food or medication. However, it is important to note that this is not always the case. Changes in bowel habits that go on for a long period of time can be a serious matter and should always be checked out by a physician. Don't ignore problems with stools, or put off seeing a doctor. It can be difficult to bring the problem up with a doctor, but in the case of digestive problems, the sooner they are discovered, the greater the chances for a good outcome.

Strange Stools and IBD

Some people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), especially those who have had surgery to remove part or all of the large intestine may notice that they don't digest food in the same way as before the surgery. Sometimes foods with strong coloring (especially artificial coloring) can translate to stools that are similarly colored.

 

Black Or Red Stool

Black or red stools that aren't caused by orange, purple, or red foods can indicate internal bleeding somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract. Stool that contains blood from the upper digestive tract is black, tarry, has a distinctive odor, and is known as melena. Stool that is red in color because it contains blood is called hematochezia.

In the case of hematochezia, the blood may coat the stool, be mixed in with the stool, or even be passed by itself without any stool at all.

Potential causes of black colored stools include:

Potential causes of red colored stools include:

Pale Or Clay-Colored Stool

Potential causes of pale or clay colored stools include:

  • liver disease (such as hepatitis or obstruction of bile ducts)
  • antacids containing aluminum hydroxide
  • barium from a recent barium enema test

Green Stool

Green or dark green stools could be caused by:

  • large amounts of green, leafy vegetables
  • green or purple artificial coloring (popsicles, Kool-Aid, gelatin)

Orange Stool

Potential causes of orange colored stools include:

  • some medications (such as beta-carotene and Rifampen)
  • foods high in beta-carotene: carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, winter squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and mangoes

The Bottom Line

In the majority of cases, a change in stool color is not something to worry about, and is likely caused by something in the diet. If a change in stool color cannot be attributed to a dietary reason, or is accompanied by any other symptoms (such as diarrhea, constipation, weakness, or dizziness), a doctor should be consulted. Frank blood in the stool, or passing blood with no stool should be reported to a physician as soon as possible.

Sources:

Dugdale DC. "Stools - pale or clay-colored." A.D.A.M. 2 Sept 2012. 4 Sept 2013.

Heller JL. "Bloody or tarry stools." A.D.A.M. 7 Jan 2011. 4 Sept 2013.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Bleeding in the Digestive Tract." National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. November 2004. 6 Aug 2013.

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