The most common causes of yellow diarrhea are related to the liver, gallbladder or small intestine and can be a sign of a serious health problem, including parasite infection, liver disease and intestinal disease. Diarrhea that resolves itself within a day or two and is often associated with diet or medication. Pale bowel movements and chronic yellow diarrhea suggest more serious causes, such as gallstones or cancer.
If diarrhea persists longer than two days, a physician might perform a stool culture or blood test or might suggest avoiding certain foods to evaluate the risk for more serious conditions. Medical history and a physical examination are also key in determining the cause of persistent diarrhea. Most experts will agree that eliminating toxins, avoiding fatty foods and consuming electrolytes are essential to resolving diarrhea quickly.
If yellow diarrhea shows up suddenly, the most common cause is a bacterial or parasite infection, especially if the sufferer also has bloody stool. Typically picked up by consuming contaminated food and/or water, bacteria and parasites can enter the body and settle into the small intestine, where they can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including yellow diarrhea. Bacteria and parasites that cause diarrhea include salmonella, Escherichia coli and Giardia lamblia. Treatment might include antibiotics as opposed to over-the-counter medicines such as loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate. Additionally, a viral infection can cause severe diarrhea and generally resolves on its own within three to seven days.
Yellow diarrhea can also be caused by a problem in the liver or gallbladder. In addition, liver and gallbladder problems are often accompanied by pain under the right ribcage. Pain under the left side suggests pancreas or spleen trouble. The color of feces is directly related to the amount of bile salts excreted from the liver. If this process is inhibited somehow, such as a by a gallstone, feces gradually will change color and become yellow or pale gray.
If the liver, pancreas and gallbladder suffers from fat malabsorption, feces can become yellow or gray, soft and smelly, as well as difficult to flush away. Cancer also is a possibility for sufferers of chronic yellow diarrhea that persists longer than four weeks. On a lighter note, some antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and antacids containing magnesium can affect the liver and cause yellow diarrhea. One should consult a physician for alternative remedies and treatments if necessary.
With respect to the small intestine, a variety of intestinal diseases can cause chronic yellow diarrhea along with fever, bloody stool and abdominal pain, just to name a few. If these symptoms are present, a physician likely will perform a medical history and physical examination, stool culture or colonoscopy. Blood tests can be used to determine whether a patient is at risk for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. These diseases are serious, and the severity of symptoms can be reduced by avoiding fatty foods, eliminating gluten and identifying other contributing factors.