What Causes Orange Stool?

Stools that look orange are often caused by a food or medication

Orange Popsicles
Image © Getty Images / Westend61

Stool can come in a variety of colors, and while something out of the ordinary can be a surprise, it is not always a symptom of a disease or condition. What is considered to be a "normal" stool color is unique to each person and is often a spectrum rather than one color all the time. That's because stool color is affected not only by the actual digestive process (as it moves through the digestive tract, the digesting food changes color from green to yellow-orange to brown and final brown color is due to the bile and bacteria that is present in the stool), but also by diet: food, drink, and even vitamins and supplements.

If you're seeing orange stools when you go to the bathroom, it is most likely because you ate foods that are orange in color (either natural or artificial color, which tends to last much longer and have deeper color). Orange stool can also occur after taking certain medications. While it is less common, a medical condition, such as a problem with the gallbladder, could also be the cause.

Fast Facts: What You Need to Know About Orange Poop

  • Having one orange stool with no other symptoms is most likely not a cause for worry.
  • Orange stools are often caused by eating red or orange foods.
  • Supplements containing beta-carotene and aluminum hydroxide can turn stools orange.
  • A lack of bile salts is one medical reason that can cause orange stool.

Foods That Can Cause Orange Stool

There are several common and benign reasons for passing orange stools that are no cause for worry. Supplements and medications that can cause orange-colored stools include those containing beta-carotene (which is sometimes found in vitamin A) and aluminum hydroxide (which can be found in antacids).

Foods that can cause orange stool include:

  • Any food with an artificial yellow or orange coloring
  • Apricots
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Collard greens
  • Fresh thyme
  • Kale
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens
  • Winter squash

Digestive Problems That Cause Orange Stool

In most healthy people, orange stool would most often be the result of eating one or more of the foods or supplements listed above.

It's important to note what is going on with the rest of the body when the orange stool is happening, though. This is because there are also some medical conditions that cause cause stool to turn the color orange.

If the stool is still orange when it is eliminated as a bowel movement, it could mean that the stool is not being exposed to, or it is not absorbing enough, bile salt. Bile is a yellowish-green, and when it reacts with the natural enzymes present in the bowel, it turns the stool brown.

Not Absorbing Bile

In order to understand why a stool is orange because of a lack of bile, the question that needs to be answered is why it is not absorbing the bile. One reason is that the stool is moving through the digestive tract too quickly. This rapid transit could be caused by one or more of several different conditions, including diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or short bowel syndrome (SBS).

Lack of Bile

Another possible medical cause of orange stool is an actual lack of bile. Not having enough bile could be because the body is just not making enough of it. A second reason could be that the bile ducts are actually blocked. The bile ducts are the way the bile travels from the liver, where the bile is produced, to the small intestine, where the bile comes into contact with the stool.

A blockage in the bile ducts could be caused by gallstones, inflammation, cysts, or tumors.

When to Call the Doctor About Orange Stools

One orange stool isn't something to be too terribly worried about because it's most likely from a food or supplement and not from an underlying medical condition. When the orange turns up multiple times, however, then it is time to think about the possibility that there could be another reason for this to be happening and that it might need attention.

If you cannot attribute the color of your stool to a dietary reason (such as orange or yellow foods or a supplement like an antacid), or if you have other symptoms (such as diarrhea, constipation, weakness, or dizziness), consult your physician.

Diagnosing the Cause of Orange Stools

A physician will most likely first ask about diet, especially orange or red foods, and then move on to determining if other tests are needed to find out what's causing the orange stool.

The tests that a doctor will run are going to be dependent on the symptoms that are happening along with the orange stool. Blood tests and stool tests might be some of the first tests done. If it's suspected that there is a digestive condition behind the orange stool, it may be necessary to get a referral to a gastroenterologist, who is a specialist in digestive disease. A gastroenterologist may order other tests based on what the problem might be, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan if a gallbladder problem or bile duct blockage is suspected.

A Word From Verywell

Orange stool caused by diet or a supplement probably isn't something to be worried about. If it is stressful, though, consider making changes that reduce the foods or supplements that are causing the orange.

If there's any other symptom happening along with the orange color, or if it goes on for more than a day or two, it's time to look into why it might be happening. Call a doctor if there's any pain, diarrhea, constipation, or other symptoms such as dizziness or weakness.

Sources:

ADAM. Bile duct obstruction. 11 May 2016.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Your Digestive System and How It Works. National Institutes of Health. Sept 2013.

Continue Reading