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Stool, Unusual Color

What is an unusual color of stool?

Any color other than brown, tan, yellow, or green is an unusual color for stools (bowel movements). Stool color relates more to what is eaten than to any disease. Unusual colors of the stool are almost always due to food coloring or food additives. In children with diarrhea, food passes through the body very quickly, and stools often come out the same color as the Kool-Aid or gelatin water that went in.

What are some common colors and causes?

  • Red: blood, red gelatin, red Kool-Aid, cranberries, red cereals, red candy, red cake frosting, tomato juice, tomato soup, beets, red peppers, red medicines
  • Black: blood from the stomach, iron, bismuth (for example, Pepto-Bismol), licorice, cigarette ashes, charcoal, Oreo cookies, grape juice
  • Green: green gelatin, green fruit snacks, iron, spinach, diarrhea, breast-feeding (especially during the first 2 months of life). Green stools are always normal and usually caused by bile.
  • Yellow-white: aluminum hydroxide (antacids), excessive milk, and rarely seen with hepatitis.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call IMMEDIATELY if:

  • The stools are red or black and tarry without explanation.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.

Call during office hours if:

  • Other unusual colors continue for more than 3 days after you have eliminated any suspected foods. Be prepared to bring in a stool sample.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-05-15
Last reviewed: 2012-05-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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