Yellow Diarrhea: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options

By Arielle Mitton
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
May 31, 2022

Normal poop is tawny, meaning it’s a combination of yellow-brown and orange-brown. This color comes from bile and bilirubin.

Bile is a digestive enzyme made by your liver, and bilirubin is a waste product of your red blood cells that is removed through your stool. 

So what does it mean when there is a change in your poop’s color and consistency?

Well, it can be the result of something you ate or a stomach bug, or it could be the sign of an underlying medical condition.  

Read on to learn about yellow diarrhea in infants and adults: what causes it, how the problem is diagnosed, what is available for treatment, and when it’s time to see a doctor. 

Infants

It’s normal for infants to have soft, frequent stools. Sometimes infants poop every time they are fed, and it’s normal for breastfed babies to have yellowish-colored poop.

This makes it difficult to know if your baby has diarrhea

A change in pattern, pooping more frequently, or poop that is more watery than usual can be signs your baby is having diarrhea. 

There are a few reasons why your baby could have diarrhea.

Some are not serious, while others may require your baby to see their primary medical provider.

Here are some possible reasons for your baby’s diarrhea:

  • Your baby had a change in diet or, if you are breastfeeding, you had a change in diet.
  • You started taking antibiotics and you are breastfeeding.
  • Your baby is taking antibiotics.
  • Bacterial infections can cause diarrhea, and antibiotics may be required to get better.
  • Parasitic infections can also cause diarrhea and may require your baby to see their medical provider for testing and medicine.

Dehydration is another cause of diarrhea, and it can happen very quickly in children under three years of age.

If your baby is three months old or younger, notify the medical provider right away if they are having diarrhea. 

If your baby starts to have pale or white stool for no known reason, this could be a sign of cystic fibrosis.

If your baby has pale or white stool, be sure to notify their primary medical provider. 

Concerned about yellow diarrhea? Chat with a medical provider through K Health.
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Adults

Normal poop should be formed, smooth, and tawny.

Typically, a person has a regular bowel movement anywhere from three times a week to three times a day.

Diarrhea is a liquid stool for more than three times a day that is sometimes accompanied by cramping, abdominal pain, and nausea.

Anytime there is a change in the consistency or color of your stool, first think back to what you ate recently or if you started taking a new medication or supplement.

These could be the cause of your diarrhea. Typically, diarrhea lasts about four days and then resolves on its own.

Sometimes diarrhea does not go away and it gets a yellow color as well. Let’s talk about what could be the potential causes of that.  

Causes

Yellow stool, sometimes called pale stool, has several different causes.

The yellow color can come from a problem with your liver not being able to produce enough bile, or it could be from a bacterial infection.

Problems with your liver or gallbladder 

The liver’s main function is to make and release bile.

Then the liver stores the bile in your gallbladder, where it waits to be secreted into your digestive tract to help break down food.

Bile is what gives your poop its brown color.

If your liver or gallbladder are having trouble making bile or if the bile is blocked from getting out, your stool may have a pale or yellowish color and your poop may be diarrhea at times. 

Possible causes for liver or gallbladder problems are:

  • Hepatitis caused by alcohol, virus, or infection
  • Biliary cirrhosis
  • Cyst in the bile duct
  • Stones in your gallbladder (gallstones)
  • Cancerous or noncancerous tumors in your liver, gallbladder, or pancreas

Stress

Excess or chronic stress can cause diarrhea, along with several health issues. Chronic stress is stress that lasts for long periods of time.

As a reaction to stress, your body releases chemicals that help you in acute stress situations (e.g., alert you to prevent a car accident).

But with chronic stress, those chemicals are activated for long periods of time.

Overexposure to these chemicals can lead to issues with your digestive tract, heart, skin, and several other body functions. 

Gilbert syndrome

Gilbert syndrome is a genetic disorder in which there is too much bilirubin in the blood at times.

Bilirubin is a waste product of your red blood cells, and it is typically broken down and expelled through your stool.

But people with Gilbert syndrome don’t always break down the bilirubin. When this happens, it can cause their skin and stool to have a yellow tinge.

The condition is typically mild and is recognized and diagnosed in the teen years. 

Giardiasis

Giardiasis is a disease from a parasite that causes diarrhea.

You get it after coming in contact with contaminated water, food, or surfaces and then touching your mouth.

It is very contagious and is more common in areas with poor sanitation. 

Symptoms include:

Your medical provider can give you medicine to help get rid of the parasite. The infection usually lasts two to six weeks. 

Clostridioides difficile infection (C. diff)

A C. diff infection is caused by an overgrowth of the bacterium Clostridium difficile.

This type of infection can happen after you take antibiotics

Symptoms of a C. diff infection are:

Disorders affecting the pancreas

Pancreatitis is when your pancreas becomes inflamed and painful.

It can cause diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever. The most common cause of pancreatitis is chronic alcohol consumption.

If left untreated or if the aggravating factors continue, pancreatitis can develop into chronic pancreatitis over time. Chronic pancreatitis can cause permanent damage to the pancreas. 

Diet

Several food intolerances can cause diarrhea that looks yellow at times.

This includes intolerances to:

  • Lactose
  • Soy
  • Cereal grains
  • Eggs
  • Seafood

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a chronic digestive disease that is triggered when you eat gluten.

Gluten is found in foods that contain grains.

A person who has celiac disease needs to avoid eating these types of foods to help stop the inflammation that it causes in their intestines. 

Diagnosis

Diagnosing your yellow diarrhea will first start with a physical exam by your medical provider, followed by a review of your medical history and current medications.

After that, your medical provider may recommend lab tests where your blood and stool can be evaluated. 

Treatment Options

Treatment depends on what is causing your yellow diarrhea. 

Treatment may include taking an antibiotic, antiviral, or antiparasitic if your diarrhea is caused by some type of infection or parasite.

It could also include learning what foods you should avoid if your problem is genetic or from chronic inflammation.

If you are severely dehydrated, you may require IV fluids administered in a hospital setting to restore your body to healthy hydration status. 

Concerned about yellow diarrhea? Chat with a medical provider through K Health.
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When to See a Medical Provider

Seek medical care right away if you have:

  • Diarrhea for more than two days
  • A fever of 102° F (38.9° C) or higher
  • Vomiting
  • More than six loose stools in 24 hours
  • Severe abdominal or rectal pain
  • Black tarry stools or pus
  • Symptoms of dehydration

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does yellow, liquid diarrhea mean?
Yellow diarrhea can mean several things. It could be caused by a problem with one of your digestive organs, including your liver, gallbladder, or pancreas. It could also be caused by a germ, like a bacteria or virus, or a parasite. There are also food intolerances that can cause diarrhea after eating a certain type of food. It’s important to monitor your diarrhea and, if you show signs of dehydration, to seek medical care right away.
Does yellow diarrhea mean I have an infection?
It can sometimes mean an infection—there are bacteria and viruses that can cause diarrhea. If this is the case, you’ll need to be treated with antibiotics to get better. However, it can also be caused by a parasite, which will require medication, or by eating a food that you have an intolerance to.

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.

Arielle Mitton

Dr. Mitton is a board certified internal medicine physician with over 6 years of experience in urgent care and additional training in geriatric medicine. She completed her trainings at Mount Sinai Hospital and UCLA. She is on the board of the Hyperemesis Research Foundation to help women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.