Have you peered into the bowl only to find your poop is yellow? Yellow stool can seem alarming, but it's rarely a cause for concern.
In this article, we’ll walk through the possible reasons for yellow poop, symptoms that can accompany problematic yellow stool, and when you should see a doctor about yellow poop.
Dietary Causes of Yellow Poop
One of the most common reasons for yellow poop is your diet. Certain foods can change the color of your stool.
Artificial food dyes are used to color foods like candy, icing, and packaged foods. Large amounts of food dyes can turn your poop yellow or even green.
Eating lots of vibrantly colored frosting or candy is the most likely culprit for kids. As fun as rainbow poop might seem, limit sweets with food dyes if it bothers you.
Carrots and Sweet Potatoes
Carrots, sweet potatoes, and other yellow-orange vegetables contain carotenoids. Your body can’t fully absorb these pigments, so they color your poop.
Eating large helpings of these veggies, especially if you ramp up intake quickly, can temporarily turn poop yellow. There’s no need to avoid them though - they’re very healthy!
A gluten intolerance or celiac disease affects how well your small intestine absorbs nutrients from food.
Undigested gluten proteins and fats can cause foul-smelling, yellow poop. If you suspect a gluten issue, get tested for celiac disease.
High-Fat and Processed Foods
A diet high in fatty, greasy, or processed foods forces your liver to go into overdrive to keep up with digestion.
Overwhelming your liver can reduce bile production and change stool color. Limit fatty and processed foods to keep your poop its normal hue.
Liver and Gallbladder Disorders
Your liver produces bile to help digest fats and absorb important nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Gallbladder issues or liver diseases like hepatitis that damage liver cells can reduce bile output. Less bile results in yellow stool.
Without enough bile, your poop lacks its typical brown pigment. Stool can become yellow, gray, or even white.
Yellow poop from decreased bile is usually accompanied by other symptoms like light-colored stools, itchy skin, weight loss, and jaundice.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress doesn’t directly turn your poop yellow, but it can speed up digestion.
When you’re stressed, your gut contracts more rapidly to move food through the intestines quicker. Food has less time to change stool color.
Rushing digestion can cause yellow poop and other temporary changes, like diarrhea. Managing stress levels can help normalize bowel habits.
Infections Causing Yellow Poop
Certain infections that affect your digestive system can also lead to yellow stool:
Giardiasis is a parasitic infection caused by microscopic Giardia parasites. Symptoms include foul-smelling, yellow poop, gas, nausea, and stomach cramps.
Giardia live in soil and contaminate water sources like lakes and rivers. The parasites spread through ingesting contaminated food or water.
Giardiasis is treatable with prescription antibiotics. Be diligent about handwashing and purifying water to avoid getting infected while camping or hiking.
Medications Lead to Yellow Poop
Some medications influence stool color as an annoying side effect.
Antibiotics kill off good gut bacteria along with bad bacteria. This can temporarily change stool color and cause diarrhea.
Yellow poop from antibiotics should resolve after finishing the medication. Take probiotics to replenish healthy gut flora.
Antacids like Tums and Rolaids bind to bile acids. This can make poop lighter.
Yellowish stool from antacids is harmless. Stay hydrated and wait it out until your system adjusts.
Medical Conditions Associated with Yellow Poop
More serious medical conditions can also cause yellow stool. See your doctor if you have yellow poop along with any other concerning symptoms.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where gluten damages the small intestine. Nutrient absorption is reduced, resulting in yellow, greasy stool.
Other symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, bloating, unintentional weight loss, fatigue, and nausea after eating gluten.
Blood tests and a biopsy of the small intestine confirm celiac disease. Following a strict gluten-free diet helps manage this chronic condition.
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation and scarring in parts of the digestive tract. This can block bile release and lead to yellow stool.
Symptoms include abdominal pain, urgent diarrhea, reduced appetite, and unintended weight loss. There is no cure for Crohn’s, but medication and lifestyle changes can induce long-term remission.
The pancreas makes enzymes and bicarbonate to neutralize stomach acid and enable digestion. Pancreatic disorders like pancreatitis disrupt this process.
When digestion is thrown off, stools can become yellow, greasy, and foul smelling. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, and severe abdominal pain.
Pancreatitis can result from gallstones, excessive alcohol use, infections, trauma, or certain medications. Seek emergency care for sudden, severe pancreatic pain.
Symptoms of Liver Problems Causing Yellow Stool
Liver diseases often cause yellow stool since they affect bile production. Look out for these other symptoms that can accompany yellow poop:
Reduced Bile Production
As mentioned, inadequate bile changes stool color. You may notice your poop is lighter, grayish, clay-colored, or yellow.
Healthy stool is brown because of bilirubin, a pigment formed by the breakdown of old red blood cells. Without bile, bilirubin can’t be absorbed and poop loses its color.
Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes caused by a buildup of bilirubin. Normally, the liver filters out bilirubin. Liver damage allows it to accumulate.
Newborns often develop jaundice because their livers are still maturing. In adults, jaundice signals a serious problem like hepatitis, cirrhosis, or bile duct blockages.
Liver dysfunction can also cause urine to turn dark yellow or amber. Bilirubin again is the culprit.
Excess bilirubin is cleared by the kidneys and excreted in urine if it can’t drain from the liver. Dark pee plus yellow eyes and skin point to jaundice.
Itchy and Dry Skin
Bile salts help your body absorb essential fatty acids and vitamins A, D, E, and K. Without enough bile, dry, flaky, itchy skin can develop.
Buildup of bilirubin in the bloodstream can also cause itching. Take care not to scratch skin and use lotion to relieve itching.
Swelling and Pain
As liver function declines, fluid can accumulate in the legs and abdomen. This leads to swelling, tenderness, and pain.
Portal hypertension, scar tissue, and circulatory changes contribute to fluid retention. Weight gain may also occur despite poor appetite.
Nausea and Vomiting
Gastrointestinal problems are common when the liver is damaged. Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting can result.
Toxins normally filtered by the liver build up and irritate the stomach lining. Vomiting may also occur from portal hypertension.
Loss of Appetite
Appetite loss stems from nausea, early satiety from fluid accumulation, altered taste, and eating-related pain. Significant weight loss may ensue.
Debilitating fatigue arises as the liver struggles. Excess toxins make you feel sluggish. Low red blood cell counts can also cause weakness.
Listen to your body and rest when needed. Light exercise may help boost energy when you’re up for it.
Other Symptoms of Liver Problems
Aside from yellow stool, here are other signs of liver disease to watch for:
Yellowing of the skin and sclera (whites of the eyes) from a buildup of bilirubin is the most telling sign of liver problems.
Jaundice usually becomes visible once liver damage is advanced, so early treatment is key.
Abdominal Pain and Swelling
Liver inflammation and enlargement can cause a dull ache or tenderness in the upper right abdomen. As cirrhosis develops, the liver shrinks and hardens, leading to pain.
Fluid retention causes swelling in the abdomen and legs. Ascites is the medical term for abdominal swelling from fluid accumulation.
Bile salt deficiencies, inflamed liver cells, and bilirubin accumulation can trigger severe itching. The palms, soles of the feet, and torso are often most affected.
When bilirubin builds up, urine darkens from its normal pale yellow to brown, orange, or amber. Cloudy urine can also be a sign of liver problems.
See your doctor if this symptom arises so the cause can be determined. Dark urine plus yellow eyes may indicate jaundice.
Chronic fatigue commonly occurs with liver disease. Toxins accumulate in the bloodstream, causing sluggishness and weakness. Low red blood cell counts from reduced production in the liver bone marrow can also trigger fatigue.
Nausea and Vomiting
Gastrointestinal distress is common with liver dysfunction. Toxins irritate the stomach lining, causing nausea and vomiting. Vomiting may also arise from portal hypertension placing pressure on the stomach.
Loss of Appetite
As the liver fails, symptoms like nausea, early satiety from fluid retention, and altered taste cause appetite loss. Significant weight loss often follows.
Easy Bruising and Bleeding
The liver makes proteins called clotting factors involved in blood clotting. When the liver is damaged, easy bleeding and bruising can occur.
Prolonged bleeding from minor cuts and nosebleeds should not be ignored. Seek medical attention.
Declining liver function allows toxins to accumulate in the bloodstream. This can cause confusion, impaired thinking, memory issues, and personality changes.
Hepatic encephalopathy is the term for altered brain function due to liver problems. Seek emergency care if you or a loved one suddenly becomes disoriented.
Swelling in the Legs and Ankles
Circulatory changes and fluid retention lead to swelling, also called edema, in the legs and ankles. Edema is often more pronounced at the end of the day after standing or sitting for long periods.
Elevating your legs while resting, wearing compression socks, and exercising can alleviate swelling. Notify your doctor about any edema.
When to See a Doctor About Yellow Poop
Yellow poop on its own is not an emergency. Call your doctor if:
- Yellow stool persists for more than 2 days
- Poop is pale, gray, or clay-colored
- You have yellow skin or eyes
- You have appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- You have abdominal swelling and pain
- Poop is bloody, black/tarry, or white
Seeking prompt treatment maximizes the chances of reversing liver damage and preventing complications like portal hypertension and liver cancer.
Certain poop colors warrant immediate medical attention:
Bright red stool indicates bleeding in the lower colon or rectum. Hemorrhoids are a common cause, but colorectal cancer, ulcers, and diverticulitis can also bleed.
Black, Tarry Poop
Black, sticky poop signals upper gastrointestinal bleeding. The blood looks black as it’s partially digested.
Causes include ulcers, tumors, and blood vessel abnormalities. Call 911 or head to the ER if you have large amounts of black stool.
White or clay-colored stool means there is a complete absence of bile. This sign of jaundice requires prompt evaluation as it can indicate gallstone blockage, liver failure, or cancer.
The Takeaway – Evaluate Yellow Poop in Context
Yellow poop usually isn’t serious, but context matters. Consider any accompanying symptoms and possible causes like diet, stress, infections, medications, or chronic illnesses.
See a doctor promptly if you have persistent yellow stool along with concerning symptoms like appetite changes, pain, nausea, or swelling. Some poop colors like white, black, or red indicate a potential medical emergency.
When in doubt about yellow poop or other changes in stool, don’t hesitate to get checked out. Catching liver issues and other conditions early makes them easier to treat. With treatment, your poop can return to its normal brown color.