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Stool color is an excellent indicator of general health and can be used to determine whether an individual is at risk of contracting various types of diseases. Because of its many components, which include bacteria, water, bile, cellulose, and small quantities of fat and protein, natural and healthy feces are commonly brown.

Depending on an individual's condition, stool can have different colors, including red, black, green, gray, white, and yellow. While some of these colors indicate the presence of serious health problems, yellowing is generally not an indication of serious conditions. However, it is commonly associated with abdominal and pancreatic problems.

Possible Causes of Yellow Stools

The color of stool is greatly affected by their components, especially those that are either altered or added to it. Some color changes indicate the presence of some medical conditions, while others may simply be caused by certain food substances or medications. In particular, yellow stool is indicative of problems with the digestive tract.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes yellow stool because it forces the body to digest food substances more quickly than normal. The rapid transit of food in the gut causes it to turn greenish as it enters the intestines. Under normal circumstances, the minerals and other nutrients from these foods will be absorbed, leaving behind brown waste. However, the speedy movement prevents necessary substances from being absorbed by the body, leaving them to be excreted with feces, which in turn becomes yellow. Other symptoms include burning pain in the chest, difficulty swallowing and regurgitation or bringing up of swallowed food back to the throat.

Emotional factors such as stress and anxiety, which trigger the "fight or flight" mechanism, have also been shown to force the body to redistribute bodily fluids and alter hormonal activities. These force the digestive system to move more quickly, which also leads to soft, yellow stools.

Too much fat in the stool (steatorrhea) also causes yellow stool. This may take place because of pancreatic disease, which impedes the flow of enzymes in the intestines and renders them unable to properly process food. Malabsorption also occurs, leaving behind undigested fats and bilirubin from the liver. These substances are what cause the foul smell, greasy appearance, and yellow color of stool.

Harboring intestinal parasites is another cause of the unnatural yellowing of fecal matter. Such parasites may include Giardia, among numerous other bacteria and viruses. Giardia can be found in contaminated water and may also cause subsequent symptoms of flu, stomach ache and fever.

Improper function of the gallbladder may cause problems in the body's usage of bile, which, in turn, causes a change in stool color. Liver disease such as cirrhosis or hepatitis can impede transmission of bile salts to the intestines. Bile salts are essential to the digestion process, and a deficit can increase the risk of developing abnormalities and even tumors anywhere in the intestines and digestive tract. This will also interfere with digestion and cause yellowing not only of stool, but possibly the skin or eyes as well.

Intestinal damage may also cause Celiac disease, which is characterized by the impaired digestion of gluten and inability to completely break down food particles. Besides fecal discoloration, this condition may also be a contributing factor to irregular bowel movement, particularly diarrhea.

When to See a Doctor

Most discoloration often occurs as an effect of sudden diet changes and will usually disappear after a short time interval. As such, it is not a cause for alarm. However, if regular bowel patterns do not return to normal within a few days, it is highly advisable to pursue treatment and diagnosis from a professional. Medical attention is necessary if the discoloration occurs along with nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. Tests may include stool exams, blood tests, imaging and endoscopic exams to diagnose any gastrointestinal problems.

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