Does this describe your child's symptoms?
- A stool color other than brown or tan
- Almost always due to food coloring or food additives.
- Stool color relates more to what is eaten than to any disease.
- In children with diarrhea, the GI passage time is very rapid. Stools often come out the same color as the Kool-Aid or Jell-O water that went in.
Clues to Unusual Stool Colors
- Blood from lower GI tract bleeding
- Foods: red Jell-O, red or grape Kool-Aid, red cereals, tomato juice or soup, tomato skin, cranberries, beets, red licorice
- Medicines: red medicines (e.g., Amoxicillin), occasionally other medicines that turn red in the GI tract (e.g., Omnicef)
- Blood from stomach bleeding (stomach acid turns blood to a dark, tar-like color)
- Foods: licorice, Oreo cookies, grape juice
- Medicines: iron, bismuth (e.g., Pepto-Bismol)
- Other: cigarette ashes, charcoal
- Bile: Dark green stools from bile may look black under poor lighting. Smearing a piece of stool on white paper and looking at it under a bright light often confirms that the color is actually dark green.
- Foods: green Jell-O, grape-flavored Pedialyte (turns bright green), spinach or other leafy vegetable. Dark green stools (e.g., spinach) may look black under poor lighting.
- Medicines: iron (e.g., in formula)
- Bile: Most dark green stools are normal and due to bile. Bile-stained loose stools are seen with diarrhea illnesses and normal breastfed stools (especially during the first 2 months of life). While bile is more commonly seen with diarrhea, it can also cause green formed stools.
White Or Light Gray:
- Foods: milk-only diet
- Medicines: aluminum hydroxide (antacids), barium sulfate from barium enema
- Liver disease: Young infants with blocked bile ducts have stools that are light gray or pale yellow.
If not, see these topics
|Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If|
- Your child looks or acts very sick
|Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If|
- You think your child needs to be seen
|Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If|
- You have other questions or concerns
- Stool is light gray or whitish and occurs 2 or more times
- Abnormal color is unexplained and persists over 24 hours (EXCEPTION: green stools)
- Suspected food is eliminated and abnormal color persists over 48 hours
|Parent Care at Home If|
- Unusual stool color probably from food or medicine and you don't think your child needs to be seen
- Green stools
HOME CARE ADVICE FOR STOOLS - UNUSUAL COLOR
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
- Unusual colors of the stool are almost always due to food coloring.
- The only colors that may relate to disease are red, black and white.
- All other colors are not due to a medical problem.
- Green Stools:
- Green color of the stools is almost always normal and due to bile.
- While it is more commonly seen with diarrhea, sometimes it occurs with formed stools.
- It usually only lasts for a few days, but it can recur.
- If you think it's due to iron medication, be sure your child is not taking too much.
- Avoid: Eliminate the suspected food or drink from the diet. The unusual color should disappear.
- Sample: For persistent unusual color, bring in a stool sample for testing. Keep it in the refrigerator until you leave.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Unexplained color persists over 24 hours
- Suspected food is eliminated and the abnormal color persists over 48 hours
- Your child becomes worse
Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Last Reviewed: 1/19/2009
Last Revised: 12/29/2008
Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Online
Copyright 1994-2009 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.