Digestive Disorders > Symptoms

Yellow bowel movements – what are the causes of yellowish stool?

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

The product of the intestine is the end result of complex digestion and, so to speak, its masterpiece. It only pulls out all the ingredients it needs from food. Still, most people find it uncomfortable to talk about bowel movements - and most of all about its (yellow) color, odor **or consistency.** In fact, these are the characteristics that we ourselves can judge well. If in doubt, they can tell us a lot about how things are going in our body.

Where does the stool get its mostly brownish color from?

The starting point for the brown color is our red blood pigment **and the oxygen carrier **hemoglobin. This moves in a constant cycle via the liver and various intermediate stages into the bile, which is released into the small intestine depending on the food intake and serves to promote detoxification. The breakdown products of hemoglobin have different colors. Incidentally, you are also familiar with this from bruising on the skin, which can be green and yellow. In the end, bacteria in our intestines process these breakdown products and ensure that the stool gets its characteristic tan color.

What are the causes of yellow stool?

Color Further symptoms Possible causes When should you go to the doctor?
Yellow-brown / yellow-whitish Starchy food, consumption of large quantities dairy products, antibiotics If the color changes for several weeks or the stool changes cannot be explained by food or medication
Light yellow Fatty stool (shiny, foul smelling), weight loss, abdominal pain Indigestion due to diseases of the pancreas and the intestine with celiac disease or Short Bowel Syndrome (usually after surgical removal of a section of the intestine) A doctor should be consulted for clarification.
Light yellow, clay-colored to white Jaundice, dark urine, itching, abdominal pain Gall stasis in various diseases of the biliary tract, the liver or the pancreas A doctor should be urgently consulted for clarification.
Ocher yellow, yellowish green, yellow slime Diarrhea Abdominal influenza (gastroenteritis), other diarrheal diseases Most digestive tract infections are self-limiting. In the case of severe symptoms such as fever and dizziness or persistent diarrhea, a doctor should be consulted.

Tip: If you also suffer from indigestion, tailored nutritional therapy can help. We have developed a nutritional therapy program subsidized by health insurance companies, which can be followed to get your digestive tract back on its normal path. Find out more about therapy here.

A yellowish brown or yellow coloring of the stool can have many causes. It is easy to imagine that eating certain food **can change the color of the stool. **Dairy products, eggs and starch products can be responsible for a yellowish color. Even taking antibiotics can contribute to this. In these cases, it is a temporary phenomenon that is not a matter of concern.

It is usually just as harmless if your bowel movements have always had a yellowish color. Then it is simply a normal variation,

For example, around nine percent of the population has Meulengracht's disease without knowing. This is a harmless anomaly of a liver enzyme that does not require therapy. This can lead to an increase in the yellow bilirubin and in this way to an accumulation of the colored degradation substances.

On the other hand, one should be careful if this stool coloring occurs newly or stops over a longer period. There can be an illness behind any persistent change in stool habits. If there are further symptoms, a doctor should be visited.


Yellow bowel movements and abdominal pain

Stomach pain is a well-known symptom that most people have experienced. Combined with yellow bowel movements, this can indicate a bile drainage disorder **(Cholestasis). Diseases of the **liver, the bile ducts or the pancreas could be the cause. The following symptom complex is characteristic:

  • Light, clay-colored stool
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundice
  • Itching (pruritus)
  • Less common: Fatty stool (steatorrhea) / weight loss with fat malabsorption

What are the causes of yellow bowel movements?

The following are possible organs and causes of yellowish bowel movements.


Liver damage from alcohol **(alcohol toxic hepatitis), **virus (hepatitis viruses), bacteria and many others chronic liver diseases can lead to reduced production or delivery of the bile. In these cases, fatigue, flu symptoms and epigastric pain can occur.

Biliary tract

Gallstones **can clog bile ducts. In fact, around 15 to 20 percent of adults in Germany have gallstones, although these usually go without problems. If the bile ducts are relocated, however, this can lead to **convulsive, right-sided abdominal pain.

Drainage problems in the bile ducts can subsequently lead to inflammation (Cholangitis). In acute cases, in addition to upper abdominal pain, **fever **and chills can occur.

Special cases include non-bacterial inflammation with autoimmune diseases such as so-called primary biliary cholangitis (PSC) or primary sclerosing cholangitis (PBC). 80 percent of the latter occurs in patients with the inflammatory bowel disease Crohn's disease. Symptoms are often absent. Persistent **itching **can however be an indicator..


Diseases of the pancreas like** chronic pancreatitis (Pancreatitis) can lead to gall stasis. This is mainly due to excessive **alcohol consumption. The main symptom is recurrent belt-shaped upper abdominal pain. In addition, fatty stool may occur under some circumstances. Here, the pancreas is so badly damaged that it can no longer produce the fat-splitting enzyme lipase.

Tumor diseases

Tumors that narrow the bile ducts usually cause no pain at all. Masses can then be found in the bile ducts inside and outside the liver, the liver itself and the pancreas. Painless jaundice is therefore always a serious warning symptoms, As with all tumor diseases, unwanted weight loss, night sweats and unexplained fever can also occur.

What is fatty stool?

In addition to detoxification, the bile also serves for fat digestion in the intestine. The bile acids contained in it, as emulsifiers, ensure that the fat is made available to the fat-splitting lipase in small bits, so to speak. If the body cannot absorb enough fats due to a lack of bile or lipase, it excretes them instead. Then the stool is** greasy** and has a distinct pungent smell. Often it is not easy to wash down and floats on the water in the toilet. If this problem persists for an extended period of time, it may lead to weight loss. Fatty stool can often be treated with appropriate nutritional therapy. You can inquire about this with your doctor or have a look here at our therapy, which is covered by the health insurance companies.

The absorption of fats is completed in the last part of the small intestine. Therefore bowel diseases like **celiac disease ** can lead to indigestion with fatty stool, weight loss and abdominal pain.

Yellow bowel movements and diarrhea

A particularly common cause of abdominal pain are infections of the gastrointestinal tract, which cause pulpy, liquid bowel movements. Here, the brown stool is thinned and can appear lighter. There may also be mucus in the stool. This often consists of dead white blood cells and is a sign of infection.

Other causes of diarrhea can also be considered with yellow bowel movements.

Yellow bowel movements in infants

Yellow, crumbly stool is quite normal for infants who are breast-fed. This is caused by the intake of breast milk. This is similar to how high milk consumption can also cause yellow bowel movements in adults.

Behrends, J., Bischofberger, J., Deutzmann, R. and Ehmke, H. (2010). Physiologie. Thieme. https://www.thieme-connect.de/products/ebooks/book/10.1055/b-002-23567

Herold, G. (2011). Innere Medizin 2011. Cologne: Selbstverl.

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

I’m André, a medical doctor from Berlin. Together with a team of medical doctors, nutritionists and data scientists we empower people to understand digestive issues with our app Cara.

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