It might be something you don’t want to think about or are too embarrassed to discuss with a doctor, but floating poop (or steatorrhea, as it is referred to medically) could be a sign of a real health issue.
Stools are usually solid, yet there are cases where a change in fecal structure makes your stools float or stick to the toilet. Floating poop is normally pal, soft, foul-smelling, and sticky. In many cases, people can have a floating stool due to dietary changes, but in other situations it could indicate a health problem that should be addressed. Although it may sound disgusting, people do need to pay attention to their poop.
Excess fat in a stool is a simple steatorrhea definition, but really the problem is not always that cut and dry. Some people who suffer from steatorrhea find that it is temporary due to eating foods that cause their poo to contain excess gas, while others may discover they have an infection or are gluten or lactose intolerant. It can also be a sign that, for some reason, your body is not processing nutrients properly.
There are a number of steatorrhea symptoms that a person could experience. However, the signs that appear for one person may be different from what appears for another. It all depends on what the underlying cause of the steatorrhea is.
Here’s a list of some of the typical steatorrhea symptoms:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Abdominal swelling or bloating
- Abnormally foul-smelling stools
- Bloody stool (the blood may be red, black texture)
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Pale feces
Some people with steatorrhea may also have a cough, dark urine, frequent infections, weight loss, itchy skin, or yellowing of the skin, known as jaundice. Additionally, there are symptoms that could indicate a life-threatening illness. For example, chest pain, high fever, inability to produce urine, breathing problems, and severe abdominal pain that comes on suddenly could be very serious. There are even situations where steatorrhea can cause people to pass out (lose consciousness).
What causes poop to float?
Floating poop causes are most often related to diet. Dietary changes can lead to an increase in gas. Foods that are rich in lactose, starch, fiber, or sugars – like apples, milk, cabbage, sprouts, beans, and soft drinks – can be responsible for a floating stool. If you have not made any changes to your diet and notice floating poop, along with some of the symptoms outlined above, other causes, including those described below, have to be considered.
Malabsorption – When this is the cause, the floating stool will have a greasy look to it and will be very smelly. In these cases, the stool passes through the intestine quickly. It could be a gastrointestinal tract infection. Some of these infections can go away within a short period of time without any treatment.
Lactose intolerance – If someone is lactose intolerant, they could have a floating stool when they consume any diary products. Lactose is a sugar that is found in dairy products. Some people just can’t digest it. Consuming dairy when lactose intolerant can lead to diarrhea and even malabsorption.
Celiac disease – When a person has inflammation of the lining in the small intestine, it could mean that they can’t handle gluten. This protein is found in wheat and related grains. There is no cure, but the abdominal pain, fatigue, and other unpleasant symptoms can be kept under control by not eating gluten.
Cystic fibrosis – People with cystic fibrosis have excessive production of mucus that is sticky in the digestive tract and the lungs. It stops the pancreas from completely absorbing nutrients.
Short bowel syndrome – This is a disease whereby the intestines are unable to absorb nutrients properly. An intestinal disease, a surgical procedure involving the small intestine, or a birth defect could cause short bowel syndrome.
Other diseases – Although rare, there are diseases such as Bassen-Kornzweigh syndrome, biliary atresia, disaccharidase deficiency, and chronic pancreatitis that can cause floating stool.
Diagnosing and treating floating poop
To diagnose steatorrhea, a doctor will ask you to describe your stool, as well as how long you have been experiencing floating stool. Questions about your diet and medical history will also be asked. It is common for a stool and/or blood sample to be tested.
The cause will help the doctor decide what treatment, if any, is necessary. If a bacterial infection is the problem, then antibiotics will likely be prescribed. If diarrhea is an issue, dietary changes will be recommended or, in some cases, an antidiarrheal medication could be prescribed. When there are other symptoms, you will be instructed to keep an eye on your diet and number of bowel movements. Additional tests could be ordered if the doctor suspects a specific disease is the cause.
Natural ways to improve fat malabsorption
If malabsorption is causing the floating poop, there are natural ways to deal with it.
Gradually increase good fats. Going from a low-fat to a high-fat diet can lead to malabsorption, so gradually increase consumption of healthy fat over a period of weeks. Healthy fats include olive oil, ghee, whole nuts and seeds, as well as meats and whole-fat dairy from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals.
Consume coconut oil. This oil is a healthful food that contains mostly medium chain fatty acids. Due to its composition, it absorbs without bile.
Eliminate “healthy” whole grains. Fiber cereals, whole wheat breads, and pastas fuel a cycle known as “carbohydrate malabsorption”. Essentially, grains wear down the filaments in the small intestine that are responsible for absorbing food. This can lead to something called leaky gut, which is when undigested food leaks from the small intestine into the blood stream. This causes inflammation and food allergies.
Eat mindfully. Digestive juices, such as stomach acid and bile, release when the body is calm and relaxed, so focus on sitting down for meals, taking time to chew and taste food, and ignore distractions like phones or televisions.
Try fermented foods. The enzymes in raw foods significantly increase the fermentation process, which improves digestion. Naturally fermented sauerkraut and pickles are two examples. Other nutrient-dense options include full-fat yogurt and kefir.
Consider hydrochloric acid. You can boost acid with hydrochloric acid supplements. Acid triggers the chain reaction of digestion. You can also get stomach acid naturally with foods. Lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, black olives, celery, and spinach all stimulate the production of hydrochloric acid.
Closely examining your own washroom visits can seem like an odd thing to do, but you can see how knowing what your stool looks like and paying attention to how you feel physically could tip you off to a health issue that may need attention.
Remember, while floating poop (steatorrhea) should not cause you to panic, it should give you reason for reflection. In the majority of cases, even a small adjustment to diet can change the look of your stool and keep your digestive tract working the right way.
Related: Bowel movements: How often should you poop?
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