The Mall Office
84 Highland Ave
Salem, MA 01970

 
(978) 745-3050
(978) 745-7014 (fax)
Office Hours | Map

Ayres D'Souza Medical Building
30 Tozer Rd
Beverly, MA 01915

(978) 745-3050
(978) 745-7014 (fax)
Office Hours | Map

Is Your Child Sick? TM


Stools - Unusual Color

Is this your child's symptom?

  • The stool color is strange or different
  • 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

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • 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 Now or Go to ER

  • 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 information is not intended to 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.


Copyright 1994-2017 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC. All rights reserved.

PAGS News

Our "Meet the Pediatricians" scheduled for Wednesday, July 19th is going to be postponed until September. We will post the new date once it is confirmed. If you are interested in meeting with any of our providers prior to that, please call the office to set up an appointment.
Pediatric Associates (PAGS) is pleased to announce that Mark Mandell, M.D. has joined the leadership team of Steward Health Care Network as their Chief Pediatric Medical Officer. Dr. Mandell has been a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates for over 25 years and will continue to see patients in both the Beverly and Salem offices.
Congratulations to Dr. Campbell, Dr. D'Souza, Dr. Jalali and Dr. Mandell for being voted top pediatricans in Northshore Magazine (March 2017).  We have a great team at PAGS!

Is Your Child Sick?TM

Browse over 100 articles to help you manage your child's symptoms.
Pediatric Associates