White specks in stool are usually caused by food, medication, or a parasite. Fortunately, treatment is often straightforward, and adjustments to diet are easy to make.
Changes in the appearance of stool can signal a health problem. However, these changes most often reflect adjustments to diet or bowel habits. If this is the case, stool should return to normal within a few days.
Nuts and seeds can sometimes make it all the way through the body without breaking down completely. The outer shells of some pills can also survive the digestive process and show up in stool.
Tapeworms or pinworms can look like white specks, and medications are available to treat both infections.
Certain types of food, medication, or parasites can cause white specks in stool.
Some foods are not digested as thoroughly as others. Corn, for example, may pass all the way through the digestive tract and still be visible in stool.
Sesame seeds and some nuts, such as almonds, are white. Small pieces of these foods may show up in stool as white specks.
This is more likely to happen if a person has recently eaten food containing whole seeds, such as a bagel with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
Seeds have a hard outer layer that protects the contents inside, and they may pass through the digestive system whole.
White specks in stool that occur soon after a person has eaten seeds are usually no cause for concern.
Some pills have hard outer casings. The body may absorb the medication but not this casing, which can appear in stools.
Empty cases are sometimes called ghost pills. Medications that may cause ghost pills to appear in stool are:
- extended-release metformin, which is used to treat diabetes
- oxycontin, a pain medication
- venlafaxine, an antidepressant
Some people may be concerned when a drug casing appears in their stool because they think that the medication has not worked.
If a person is worried, their doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative medication. For example, some medicines are available as liquids rather than pills.
Tapeworms and pinworms can appear as white specks in stools. Tapeworm infection is uncommon, but these specks are a key symptom.
White or yellow specks may be pieces of tapeworm. These pieces are usually flat, square-shaped, and about the size of a grain of rice.
Some people may not have additional symptoms. Others may experience a stomachache or diarrhea.
People typically get a tapeworm infection by eating meat that is raw or has been undercooked.
A pinworm infection is more common, particularly in children. A pinworm is small, white, and about the size of a staple. They usually look like white threads and are also called threadworms.
Pinworms typically live in the lower part of the gut and lay eggs on the skin around the anus. This can cause discomfort and itching.
The infection usually starts with a person getting pinworm eggs in their mouth, often from infected stool. Practicing proper hand hygiene is the best way to avoid contamination.
One pill is usually sufficient to treat a tapeworm infection. The medication will kill the tapeworm, which will pass out of the body in a stool.
A person may be required to give a stool sample 2 to 3 months after treatment, to check whether the infection has cleared up.
Medication to treat pinworms will be given in two doses, 2 weeks apart. Everyone in a household will need treatment, to ensure that they do not have the infection.
It is important to wash clothing and bedding regularly to avoid reinfection. Washing hands frequently and keeping fingernails short will also help.
A person with pinworms usually experiences mild symptoms and no complications.
It is unusual for a person with a tapeworm infection to have complications. However, newly hatched tapeworms can move from the gut to other organs, and this can cause cysts.
A cyst is a small sac filled with fluid. Some cysts can stop organs from working correctly, most commonly the brain or liver.
Symptoms include problems with eyesight, headaches, and coughing up blood. If any of these symptoms follow a tapeworm infection, see a doctor.
White specks that appear in a stool after someone has eaten a particular food are usually not a cause for concern.
Changes in the color and appearance of stool are likely to happen from time to time and cannot always be prevented.
A person may choose to keep a food diary and check the appearance of their stools. This can help to determine the cause of white specks. Avoiding whole nuts and seeds should cause the appearance of stool to return to normal.
Raw beef, pork, and freshwater fish can contain tapeworm larvae. Contact with an infected person or animal's stool can also spread tapeworms.
Pinworms may spread when a person comes into contact with an affected individual's anus, contaminated bedding, clothing, food, or other items.
Washing hands with soap and water and cooking food thoroughly can help to avoid infection.
A person who suspects that they have a pinworm or tapeworm infection should see a doctor. The infection will usually require medication.
Some may wish to consult a doctor if changes to diet do not normalize the color of stool. A doctor should ensure that a person is correctly absorbing medication if pill casings continually appear in stools.
If stool is mostly or entirely white, see a doctor. This may indicate that the pancreas, liver, or bile duct is not functioning as it should.
Food may be the cause of white specks in stool. While the time may differ, food typically takes 30 to 40 hours to travel through the body.
Although the appearance of pill casings in stool may be worrying, it is often not a cause for concern. The medication has usually been absorbed by the body, leaving the unneeded casing behind.
Pinworm and tapeworm infections are unpleasant but usually have no accompanying symptoms. A person will likely only need one or two doses of medication.