Appearance of white colored excreta in an otherwise healthy individual is usually not a normal occurrence and may indicate a disease or a disorder of the digestive tract. Poop gets its normal yellowish brown color mainly from the digestive fluid bile, which is produced by the liver and is stored in the gall bladder. This bile is secreted into the small intestine during the digestive process where it is is broken down into urobilinogen. As urobilinogen is largely responsible for turning the color of the feces darker, white poop is often a result of the liver’s inability to produce bile. At other times, even when the bilirubin is produced properly by the liver, it is hindered from leaving the organ. In both of the above cases, the direct reason behind the occurrence of white poop is lack of urobilinogen production. It is wise to take advice from a qualified physician if you are experiencing white poop, especially if it persists.
What causes poop to turn white?
As explained earlier, the reasons behind white poop are usually some abnormality in the digestive tract and liver. A few of the most common diseases that could be responsible for white poop are discussed below.
1. Liver Dysfunction — Disorders like cirrhosis of liver, hepatitis A, hepatitis B (liver inflammation, which can be caused by alcoholism, medications or infections) and liver cancer can reduce or stop the production of bile resulting in white colored excreta. Presence of cysts or tumors may prevent the bile from leaving the liver which would mean that urobilinogen would not be produced. Along with white or discolored stool, some of the other symptoms of liver disease are jaundice, dark urine, and yellowish tint near the eyes, nails and itchy skin.
2. Abnormalities in the bile duct — Disorders in the bile duct may also be a cause of white poop and thus a cause of concern. Bile, which is stored in bile ducts, may be obstructed from being secreted in the smaller intestine due to narrowing or stricture in the ducts. Biliary cirrhosis is a disorder where the bile ducts slowly stop functioning altogether and is more serious than most other disorders related to the bile ducts. Unfortunately, the probable causes behind the occurrence of the disease is not yet known but one of the symptoms are established to be white poop.
3. Cancer — Certain types of cancers like the pancreatic cancer might be responsible for white stool due to the lack of necessary digestive enzymes which are usually secreted by the pancreas. This type of cancer also causes lethargy and exhaustion as the ingested food is not properly digested and thus, it may even lead to malnutrition. The tumor frequently obstructs the area around the pancreatic duct which is close to the intestines. This tumor would hence block bile supply which would once again lead to pale or whitish poop for reasons explained earlier.
4. Other disorders — Blockage in the liver is a major cause behind obstruction in production and release of bilirubin and this obstruction may be brought in due to the presence of a gallstone or fibrosis. Pain in the right side of the upper abdomen is a symptom in these cases along with the appearance of white poop.
5. White diarrhea (steatorrhea) is often caused by the absence of lipase, a pancreatic enzyme which is chiefly responsible for processing fat molecules. This might however, be a symptom of diseases like pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer. Food poisoning, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease are sometimes responsible for the development of severe inflammations in the smaller intestine and white stool might be excreted as a result. As many diseases share the symptom of white poop, it is hard to determine the exact cause without proper medical tests.
6. Although it is not common, the candida fungus (candida albicans) found in the large intestine can sometimes grow above the standard range in a patient suffering from immunity deficiency diseases like HIV and AIDS. Overgrowth of candida albicans is associated with white poop and thus it is also a possibility.
7. Medications — Fortunately, white poop is not always the result of a severe disorder, there might be other less severe causes as well. Ingestion of certain type of medications falls under this category.
Medications such as isoniazid, which is used to treat contagious diseases similar to tuberculosis, may lead to a condition known as cholestatic jaundice, where the patient suffers from severe fatigue along with the appearance of chalky white poop. This condition is not as severe as some of the more life-threatening causes and things may revert back to normal once the medication is stopped.
If an individual’s gastrointestinal tract is diagnosed via an x-ray, he can experience white stool temporarily and is nothing to be worried about at all. The reason behind this is the fact that prior to the x-ray, the patient must drink a Barium milkshake in order for the diagnosis to be successful. The resultant white poop is scientifically known as barium enema.
Another common and harmless reason behind the occurrence of white poop is the over-consumption of antacids. Taking too many antacids may have more severe consequences on one’s health over time, so it is wise to treat white poop as a warning sign.
A large dose of diarrhea medications containing bismuth subsalicylate, such as kaopectate or pepto-bismol, is known to turn poop white temporarily but the color may vary.
White poop in babies
Infants can excrete stools of different colors, which are perfectly normal and the reason is generally a combination of the food that they consume and the fact that their digestive system is being formed for the first time. However, white colored poop in babies is not expected under normal circumstances and may be a cause for alarm.
Nonetheless, if your baby is either on an all-milk diet, or is administered antacids, antibiotics or anti-fungal medicines, the appearance of white poop is absolutely normal as these are reasons that have little to do with the condition of the liver.
If none of the reasons mentioned above are applicable or if your baby is not having a barium enema, then white poop may be symptomatic of diseases of the liver, the small intestine or the gallbladder. Common diseases include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, liver infections, biliary cirrhosis, sclerosing cholangitis; inborn abnormalities of the bile ducts or intestines, gallstones, tumors or cysts, narrowing of the bile ducts, inborn metabolic syndrome and even cancer. Therefore, if your child is experiencing white poop you should immediately consult a doctor to figure out the problem and seek a solution before the condition worsens.
What to do about it?
The treatment depends on the core cause behind the white stool and the first step towards that treatment is figuring out the exact cause with the help of medical experts and facilities. Pale or white colored excreta caused by malabsorption, celiac sprue, or Crohn’s disease might benefit from high fibre diets, but medication is usually a must. Blockades, cancers and cysts in the liver, bile ducts or the intestines may require more serious forms of treatment such as surgery and chemotherapy.