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  • Select from over 100 symptoms to read more about managing your child's illness.

    Is Your Child Sick? TM


    Stools - Unusual Color

    Is this your child's symptom?

    • Stool color that is strange or different than normal
    • Normal stool colors are any shade of brown, tan, yellow or green
    • The only colors that may be caused by a disease are red, black and white
    • Dark green may look like black, but dark green is a normal color

    If NOT, try one of these:


    Causes of Unusual Stool Color

    • 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 gastrointestinal (GI) passage time is very rapid. Stools often come out the same color as the fluid that went in. Examples are Kool-Aid or Jell-O.
    • The only colors we worry about are red, black (not dark green) and white.

    Clues to Unusual Stool Colors

    Red:

    • "Bloody stools": 90% of red stools are not caused by blood
    • Blood from lower GI tract bleeding
    • Medicines. Red medicines (like Amoxicillin). Sometimes, other medicines that turn red in the GI tract (such as Omnicef)
    • Foods. See list below.

    Foods That Can Cause Red Stools:

    • Red Jell-O, red or grape Kool-Aid
    • Red candy, red licorice
    • Red cereals
    • Red frosting
    • Beets
    • Cranberries
    • Fire Cheetos
    • Red peppers
    • Tomato juice or soup, tomato skin

    Black:

    • Blood from stomach bleeding (stomach acid turns blood to a dark, tar-like color)
    • Foods. Licorice, Oreo cookies, grape juice
    • Medicines. Iron, bismuth (Pepto-Bismol)
    • Other. Cigarette ashes, charcoal
    • Bile. Dark green stools from bile may look black under poor lighting. Smear a piece of stool on white paper. Look at it under a bright light. This often confirms that the color is really dark green.

    Green:

    • Green stools are always normal, but they can be mistaken for black stools.
    • Bile. Most dark green stools are caused by bile.
    • Green stools are more common in formula fed than breastfed infants. It can be normal with both.
    • Green stools are more common with diarrhea. This is due to a fast transit time through the gut. However, formed stools can also be green.
    • Dark green stools may look black under poor lighting. Eating spinach can cause dark green stools.
    • Medicines. Iron (such as in formula)
    • Foods. See list below.

    Foods That Can Cause Green Stools:

    • Green Jell-O
    • Grape-flavored Pedialyte (turns bright green)
    • Green fruit snacks
    • Spinach or other leafy vegetables

    White or Light Gray:

    • Foods. Milk-only diet
    • Medicines. Aluminum hydroxide (antacids), barium sulfate from barium enema
    • Liver disease. Babies with blocked bile ducts have stools that are light gray or pale yellow.

    When to Call for Stools - Unusual Color

    When to Call for Stools - Unusual Color

    Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

    • Your child looks or acts very sick
    • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

    Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

    • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

    Call Doctor During Office Hours

    • Stool is light gray or white and occurs 2 or more times
    • Strange color without a cause lasts more than 24 hours (Exception: green stools)
    • Suspected food is stopped and strange color lasts more than 48 hours
    • You have other questions or concerns

    Self Care at Home

    • Strange stool color most likely from food or medicine
    • Green stools

    Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

    • Your child looks or acts very sick
    • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

    Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

    • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

    Call Doctor During Office Hours

    • Stool is light gray or white and occurs 2 or more times
    • Strange color without a cause lasts more than 24 hours (Exception: green stools)
    • Suspected food is stopped and strange color lasts more than 48 hours
    • You have other questions or concerns

    Self Care at Home

    • Strange stool color most likely from food or medicine
    • Green stools

    Care Advice for Stools - Unusual Color

    1. What You Should Know About Unusual Stool Color:
      • Strange 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.
      • Here is some care advice that should help.
    2. Green Stools:
      • Green color of the stools is always normal. Most often, green stools are caused by bile.
      • Green stools are more common in formula fed than breastfed infants. But, they can be normal with both.
      • Green stools are more common with diarrhea. This is due to a fast transit time through the gut. However, formed stools may also be green. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
      • If your child takes iron, be sure your child is not taking too much.
    3. Avoid Suspected Food or Drink:
      • Don't eat the suspected food.
      • Don't drink the suspected drink.
      • The strange stool color should go away within 48 hours.
    4. Save a Sample:
      • If the strange stool color doesn't go away, bring in a sample.
      • Keep it in the refrigerator until you leave.
    5. What to Expect:
      • Remove the cause of the unusual color from the diet.
      • Then the stool should change back to normal color.
      • This should happen within 48 hours or 2 stools later.
    6. Call Your Doctor If:
      • Strange color without a cause lasts more than 24 hours
      • Suspected food is stopped and strange color lasts more than 48 hours
      • You think your child needs to be seen
      • Your child becomes worse

    And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

    Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

    Copyright 2000-2018. Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.