What Causes White Stool?

By Latifa deGraft-Johnson, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
April 20, 2022

It’s normal for your stools to range slightly in color.

Different foods and medications can affect poops, so some variation is to be expected.

If your poop is white, it does not necessarily mean something is wrong, but it may be the sign of an underlying health condition. 

This article will discuss in details what white poop may signify, causes of white poop, treatment, the normal poop color as well as when you should see a doctor. 

Normal Poop Color

Most shades of brown poop are considered normal—and in some cases, greenish brown hues can be normal as well. 

Stool color is generally determined by what you eat and the amount of bile in your poop.

Bile is a thick, yellowish-green liquid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder.

It plays an important role in digestion, as it is responsible for breaking fats down into digestible fatty acids, and it also helps remove waste products from the body.

As bile travels through your digestive system, it changes from a lighter yellowish-green to darker green and brown shades.

This happens because of bilirubin, a waste product made up of red blood cells. Bilirubin makes poop its usual brown color.

Bristol stool chart

The Bristol Stool Form Scale (BSFS), more commonly known as the Bristol stool chart, classifies poop into seven different types of consistency.

It doesn’t distinguish different colors of stool—instead, it focuses on texture.

This can be helpful for providers to determine if there is any cause for concern with change in consistency.

Doctors use the chart as a quick and easy way to assess a person’s digestive health.

People can also use the classifications themselves if they are concerned about their poop.

The categories are:

  • Type 1: Separate, hard lumps
  • Type 2: Lumpy and sausage like
  • Type 3: Sausage shaped with cracks in the surface
  • Type 4: A smooth, soft sausage
  • Type 5: Soft blobs with distinct edges
  • Type 6: Mushy consistency with ragged edges
  • Type 7: Liquid with no solid pieces
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What White Poop Means

If your stool is white or pale, there may be something wrong. In some cases, it may resolve on its own in a few days.

However, if it doesn’t go away, you will need to see a doctor.

White poop happens when there is a lack of bile in the stool. As discussed earlier, bile—and the waste product bilirubin—gives poop its color.

If there isn’t enough bile in your poop, it will be very light in color.

A lack of bile may mean a bile duct is blocked.

Bile is stored in the gallbladder, so if a duct is squeezed or blocked by something, like a gallstone, bile can’t enter the small intestine.

However, this isn’t always the case.

Some medications, like Pepto-Bismol, can turn poop white.

This is because they contain bismuth subsalicylate, an antacid medication that can cause light stools.

Causes of White Stool

There are many possible causes of white poop.

Diseases or infections affecting the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas are all common reasons. 

Some medical conditions that can cause pale stool include:

  • Liver disease
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Biliary cirrhosis
  • Gallbladder conditions
  • Bile duct cysts
  • Biliary atresia
  • Narrowing of the bile ducts
  • Gallstones
  • Sclerosing cholangitis
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Tumor on the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas

Some medications can also cause white poop, such as antidiarrheals like Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate.

Children

Infants’ poops go through a great deal of change early in life, and it’s important to pay attention to their color and texture.

At first, their bowel movements will be dark, black, and tarry.

Within a few days, they will get lighter in color and become a pale yellow.

They’ll also develop a runny, seedy texture.

While it’s normal for baby’s stools to be a light yellow color, they should not be white. 

If an infant’s poops are very pale, it may mean something is going on in their digestive system.

You should contact your pediatrician right away.

In rare cases, white stool has been shown to be an early sign of cystic fibrosis in infants.

However, it has only been reported in a few case studies and is very uncommon, so it may not be the cause of white poops. 

Pregnant people

The most likely cause of pale stools in pregnant people is a condition called cholestasis of pregnancy.

This is a liver problem that stops bile from flowing out of the gallbladder.

Over time, bile can accumulate in the liver and spill into the bloodstream, which can be dangerous.

Cholestasis of pregnancy can make stools light in color, and it can also cause other symptoms including:

  • Severe itching (pruritus)
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Abdominal pain

Experts don’t know why cholestasis of pregnancy happens, but they do know that it’s more common in the second and third trimesters.

Sometimes, it resolves on its own without treatment.

But if it doesn’t go away, doctors can manage the condition by prescribing medication and monitoring the baby. 

Treatment

The treatment for white poop depends on what’s causing it.

If you have white stools, a doctor can determine your treatment plan by diagnosing a possible cause.

A doctor or healthcare professional will perform a physical exam.

They might also ask questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • What medications do you take?
  • How long have you been having pale stools?
  • What is the texture of your stools?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

They can also carry out tests to definitively diagnose you.

These can include blood tests, stool tests, and imaging studies like an ultrasound or CT scan.

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When to See a Medical Provider

In otherwise healthy adults, white stools may resolve themselves within a day or two.

But if you have pale stools for more than a few days, you should contact a doctor or healthcare provider. 

However, this does not apply to children and pregnant individuals.

If an infant, child, or pregnant person has white stools, they should contact a doctor right away.

Although white poop is not always a sign of a serious condition, it may be, and it’s best to get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?

Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my poop white?
A variety of factors can cause white stool. Sometimes, taking medications (like antidiarrheals) can make your poop light in color. Certain medical conditions, like those affecting the liver and gallbladder, can also make you have white poop. In pregnant individuals, white poop can be a sign of cholestasis of pregnancy, a condition requiring immediate medical attention.
What foods cause white poop?
Food can affect the color of your stool, and eating some foods may make your poop lighter in color. However, foods should not turn your stool white. Certain medications, such as those containing bismuth subsalicylate, can temporarily turn your poop white.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Latifa deGraft-Johnson, MD

Dr. Latifa deGraft-Johnson is a board-certified family medicine physician with 20 years of experience. She received her bachelor's degree from St. Louis University, her medical degree from Ross University, and completed her family medicine residency at the University of Florida. Her passion is in preventative medicine and empowering her patients with knowledge.

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