What Do Different Poop Colors Mean—and When Should You Be Worried?

Foods and medicines can change the color of poop, but so can some health conditions.

On some occasions, you might notice that your bowel movements are more colorful than normal. However, it isn't unusual to have brightly colored bowel movements, according to Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic. Lots of other foods can have the same effect.

"Normal stool is light to dark brown in color," Dr. Wakim-Fleming said. "The bile secreted into the intestines turns digested substances brown. When we see different colors, it's typically because of dyes and additives that are not digested."

What Other Things Cause Stool To Be Different Colors?

You might find your poop changes color after consuming a lot of these foods:

  • beets (red)
  • tomato skin (red)
  • tomato juice/soup (red)
  • licorice (black)
  • leafy greens or green juices (green)
  • popsicles (any color)
  • Kool-Aid (any color)
  • Jell-O (any color)
  • carrots (orange)
  • sweet potatoes (orange)
  • apricots (orange)
  • icing (any color)
  • gum or hard candy (any color)

Medicines can also affect the color of your waste. Per MedlinePlus, iron tablets and Pepto-Bismol act in your digestive system and can turn stools black, for example. Dr. Wakim-Fleming said green, red, or white capsules can also turn up in your toilet—these are known as ghost tablets, according to a December 2017 article in the Journal of General and Family Medicine.

When Should You Be Concerned About Poop Color?

Most colors are generally harmless, but Dr. Wakim-Fleming said she will always ask questions in the presence of a colorful bowel movement. "First, I'll check diet," Dr. Wakim-Fleming noted. "If someone says they've been eating green Jell-O and have green stools, then we've usually figured it out. But I'll also check and make sure there are no other symptoms, like fever, diarrhea, or weight loss."

If the stool is a very light tan, then there's a reason for concern. "Since bile turns the stool brown, a tan color means the bile didn't get into the intestine," Dr. Wakim-Fleming explained. "There could be an obstruction in the bile duct, a stone or tumor in the pancreas or the liver. Hepatitis can also turn the stool tan and the urine dark in color."

Occasionally, yellow stool may occur due to dyes or diets—namely ones that are high in fat. If it isn't due to diet but is greasy and foul-smelling, yellow stool could be a sign of celiac disease. Your healthcare provider can rule this out with an evaluation through testing and diagnosis, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

When red or black stool is accompanied by changes in consistency, Dr. Wakim-Fleming said it's usually caused by blood. "If the stool is black and tarry, then there's typically blood from the upper GI; this could be from an ulcer or NSAID use, or varicose veins in the stomach or esophagus," Dr. Wakim-Fleming added. "If the stool is maroon, there's typically blood lower in the GI tract, and we'll check for things like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn's disease."

Bright red blood is typically a bleeding issue in the colon, like hemorrhoids. If you suspect you have blood in your stool, then call your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

No matter the cause, if you're ever in doubt about the color of your bowel movement, err on the side of caution and get it checked out.

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