Why is my stool yellow?

Published April 27th, 2022 by Corey Riley
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

If your stool has turned yellow, you are not alone as many people experience yellow stool at some point in their lives.

In most cases, yellow stool is caused by something that is easily treated and does not pose a serious health risk.

However, it is important to understand the causes of yellow stool and when you need to see your doctor.

In this article, we will explore the causes of yellow stool and what you can do about it.

How can my stool be different colors?

If you've ever taken a close look at your stool, you may have noticed that it can vary in color.

The variation in color is perfectly normal, and the color of your stool is usually an indicator of what you've been eating.

For example, green foods such asvegetables can give stool a greenish color, and beets and tomato juice can make it appear reddish.

If your diet is lacking in certain nutrients, this can also affect the color of your stool such as a lack of iron can cause it to appear pale. While the color of your stool is usually nothing to worry about, there are a few exceptions.

When your stool is a yellow color, this is due to the presence of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that's produced when your liver breaks down old red blood cells.

The yellow color produced by this process can range from being very pale to a more yellow-orange color, and in some cases, it can even have a green color.

If your stool is yellow and you're not sure why there are a few possible explanations which we will detail below.

What can cause yellow stool?

If your stool has suddenly started to appear yellow it is not an immediate cause for concern as there are a number of different things that can cause yellow stool.

yellow diarrhea image

The most common causes of yellow stool include:

Diet

Dietary changes such as if you have recently started eating more yellow or orange foods can change the color of your stool and is usually nothing to worry about and will go back to normal once you return to your usual diet.

Examples of foods that can cause yellow stool include carrots, sweet potatoes, turmeric, or foods or drinks with yellow food coloring.

There is no need to panic if you have yellow stool due to your diet, when your diet does not include these foods anymore your stool will return to a more normal brown color.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where your body is unable to properly absorb nutrients from food due to an intolerance to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.

Celiac disease can cause yellow stool because it interferes with the fat absorption in your digestive tract which results in yellow, oily stools. Besides having yellow stool, common symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • Foul-smelling diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Rash

If you think you may have celiac disease, it's important to see your doctor so they can order the proper tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for celiac disease; however, you can minimize its effects by avoiding gluten in your diet.

Liver disorders

Yellow stool can be a symptom of liver diseases such as hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, or Gilbert's syndrome.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by a number of different things such as viruses, alcohol, or certain medications.

Cirrhosis is a condition where the liver is damaged and scarred, and it's usually caused by long-term exposure to toxins such as alcohol.

Gilbert's syndrome is a disorder that's passed down in families and affects the way the liver processes bilirubin.

All three of these conditions cause yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, which is also called jaundice, in addition to yellow stool. If you believe you have a liver disorder, please consult your doctor for treatment.

Gallstones

Gallstones are hardened deposits of bile, with bile being a yellow-green fluid that helps you digest fats, that can form in your gallbladder.

Gallstones can cause yellow stool because they can block the bile duct and prevent bile from being released into the intestine which gives stool a yellow color. Additional symptoms of gallstones include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice

The treatment for gallstones may include a low-fat diet, pain relief medication, a medication to dissolve the gallstones, and in some cases surgery to remove the gallbladder.

Stress

Stress, and also anxiety, can cause yellow stool because it can affect the way your digestive system works.

When you're stressed, your body releases hormones that can speed up the digestive process and cause diarrhea, which is when you have loose stool or watery stool, and it can range from mild to severe.

If you are stressed and have loose or watery diarrhea, there are a number of different things you can do to help including:

  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Spending time in nature
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a healthy diet

Pancreas disorders

Your pancreas is an organ in your abdomen that helps with digestion by releasing enzymes into the small intestine that help break down food.

When you have a pancreas disorder, such as chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, and blockage of the pancreatic duct, it can cause yellow stool.

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, can cause yellow stool because it prevents the pancreas from properly releasing these enzymes.

Cystic fibrosis is a disorder that affects the lungs and digestive system and it can cause yellow stool because it prevents the pancreas from releasing enzymes.

Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the tissues of the pancreas, and it can cause yellow stool because it blocks the bile ducts which causes a lack of bile.

If you think you may have a pancreas disorder, please see your doctor for treatment.

Giardiasis

Giardiasis, also called beaver fever, is an infection of the gastrointestinal tract, specifically the small intestine, that's caused by a microscopic parasite called Giardia lamblia which is a parasite found in contaminated water, such as lakes and ponds, and it can also be spread via person-to-person contact.

Symptoms of giardiasis include:

  • Yellow stool, particularly yellow diarrhea
  • Greasy, foul-smelling stool
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headaches

The symptoms normally begin 1 to 3 weeks after exposure to the parasite and can last anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks.

Treatment for giardiasis involves an antibiotic prescription from your doctor who will take a stool sample for diagnosis.

Is yellow stool normal in infants?

Infants have a higher level of bilirubin because they have a higher rate of red blood cell turnover.

For this reason, yellow stool is considered normal stools in infants. If you're concerned about your infant's stool, please consult your pediatrician.

When do I need to see my doctor about yellow stool?

If your yellow stool is caused by changes to your diet then there is nothing to worry about. I

f your yellow stool does not change back to a more normal color after a couple of days and you are experiencing other symptoms, then you need to see your doctor.

You need to see your doctor if you have yellow stool and you're also experiencing:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Pus-filled stool
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Passing out
  • Lack of awareness
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty urinating

What are complications caused by yellow stool?

Yellow stool can be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition, so if you have yellow stool, please see your doctor to rule out any potential complications.

Some complications that can be caused by yellow stool include:

  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Foul-smelling stool
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Gas
  • Indigestion

If you have yellow stool, it's important to see your doctor so they can rule out any potential complications and provide you with the proper treatment.

Summary

When you have yellow stool, it is due to higher levels of bilirubin, which is a byproduct of your liver breaking down old red blood cells.

Yellow stool can be caused by a number of different things including dietary changes, stress, pancreatic disorders, giardiasis, and infants having a higher level of bilirubin among many others with treatments varying depending on the cause.

You need to see your doctor if your yellow stool is accompanied by other symptoms as it could be a sign of a more serious medical problem.

If you have any more questions about the color of your stool, please talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment options for you.

References and Links:

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/giardia/illness.html

https://www.unitypoint.org/blankchildrens/article.aspx?id=40567710-74c7-4ef2-a040-847be9fbd35a

http://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/stool-color/expert-answers/faq-20058080

http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/giardia/infection-sources.html