White stool in adults is unusual, since stools normally are brown or green in color. There are several factors that may affect the color of your stool such as insufficient amount of bile, inability to take up fats by the digestive system, or blockage in the bile ducts. Bile deficient stools are medically termed as “acholic” stools and they look like light-colored or white stool in adults. If you have concerns over your stool then, consult your doctor.
Causes of White Stool Color in Adults
1. Digestive Problems
Any disorder in the digestive system (from the mouth to the esophagus, stomach, and intestines up to the rectum) like Whipple disease, fecal incontinence, dysentery, or esophageal achalasia can result in white stool in adults. These digestive system disorders may make the stool turn pale.
The contrast agent barium sulfate used for X-ray exam and some medications containing aluminum hydroxide can turn the color of stools to white. Isoniazid, a drug used to treat tuberculosis, which induces the bilirubin levels to rise, can also alter the color of the stool. Other gastrointestinal drugs such as kaolin and bismuth salicylate may cause the stool to turn white especially if a large dose is taken.
3. Liver Disorders
Hepatitis or inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis, a chronic liver disease, usually manifest with white stool in adults. These conditions may have serious complications and can lead to liver cancer. Immediate medical treatment must be sought when symptoms such as stool changes occur.
4. Bile Duct Obstruction
The bile is the fluid used to digest fats released from the liver. It is temporarily stored in your gallbladder after passing through tubes called the bile ducts. Bile is also responsible for the normal stool color. After eating, the bile is released into your small intestine. When the ducts are obstructed by cysts or inflammation, for example, bile builds up in the liver, and stools become pale in color. Infection may also cause the ducts to be obstructed and in most cases, patients may show symptoms like itching, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, and white stools.
Too much cholesterol or bilirubin (components of bile) in the gallbladder and failure of the gallbladder to sufficiently empty bile into the small intestine may result in the formation of gallstones. When gallstones become large, they may wedge in the bile duct and obstruct the flow of bile to the small intestine. Once a blockage is created, symptoms such as fever, prolonged pain, nausea and vomiting, and white stool may occur.
6. Inflammatory Diseases
Celiac disease is an inflammatory disease of the digestive system caused by the sensitivity to gluten. Gluten is found mostly in rye, barley, or wheat. Crohn’s disease is another inflammatory disease of the digestive system which also affects the small intestine. Both Celiac and Crohn’s diseases may change the color of the feces into light or pale color.
Liver and pancreatic cancer may manifest as pale or white stool, abdominal or back pain, tiredness, weight loss, irritability, poor appetite, diarrhea, or jaundice (yellow skin discoloration). The tumor may sometimes obstruct the bile duct and results in the formation of pale-colored stool. Cancer of the large intestine, small intestine, or the rectum may also cause changes in the color of the feces.
Treatments for White Stools in Adults
To treat the white stools in adults will largely depend on whatever is causing the stool to change its color. For example:
- If the change in stool color is caused by inability to absorb fats, you may be advised to modify the diet and prescribed fat-soluble vitamin supplements.
- If the underlying cause for acholic stools is hepatitis, then, treatment should be focused in taking care of hepatitis.
- Likewise, treatment for Celiac and Crohn’s and all other diseases should be focused individually on the main disorder.
When to See a Doctor
Unless there is a known specific cause for having white stool like a recent X-ray exam using barium contrast or a prolonged use of large dose of antacid, it is best to seek medical assistance at once because white stool is not a normal phenomenon but may be linked to a serious medical condition.
- It is always advisable to see a doctor when a change in stool color occurs, especially when accompanied by other symptoms like fever or weight loss so that proper diagnosis and treatment may be given.
- In serious events such as very high fever, changes in mental conditions, seizures, vomiting, or severe abdominal pain, it is best to seek out for immediate medical assistance and call 911.
- Dehydration is a life-threatening condition and should be treated immediately. Decreased urination, light-headedness, increased thirst, and fatigue are the symptoms of dehydration.