How to Deal with Floating Poop

What Causes It? What Should I Do About It?

Girl with constipation
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While it may be surprising to see floating poop, it's usually nothing to be concerned about and is often related to what you have had to eat.

The Most Common Causes of Floating Poop

Two common causes of floating stools are excess gas and poor absorption of nutrients (malabsorption).

Excessive gas - The foods that you eat can cause increased gas. When gas gets into stool, it causes it to float. Foods that can produce excessive gas include foods high in sugar, fiber, and artificial sweeteners (such as beans, broccoli, cabbage, soft drinks, and sugar-free foods).

Conditions such as lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can also cause excess gas and, in turn, result in floating poop.

Malabsorption - Floating poop can result if your intestines aren't absorbing fat properly. Since fat is lighter than water, floating poop can signal the presence of fat in your stool (steatorrhea). Often soft and foul-smelling, these stools frequently stick to the side of the toilet bowl and are difficult to flush away.

Gastrointestinal infections can cause steatorrhea, but it can also result from the use of certain medications or conditions known to disrupt the absorptive lining of the intestines (such as Crohn's diseaseceliac disease, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, cystic fibrosis, Graves' disease, and short bowel syndrome). 

Other Causes of Floating Poop

Steatorrhea can also occur as a symptom of conditions affecting the pancreas, gallbladder, or liver.

Such conditions are often marked by decreased levels of lipase (a digestive enzyme produced by the pancreas) and/or bile salts (a type of substance formed in the liver). Lipase and bile salts are both needed to break down and absorb fat.

Here's a look at several conditions that can cause this type of floating stool:

  • Chronic pancreatitis - Often linked to alcoholism or gallstones, chronic pancreatitis is characterized by inflammation of the pancreas. Along with floating stool, symptoms include abdominal pain, back pain, abdominal bloating, and weight loss. It is also associated with diabetes.
  • Sclerosing cholangitis - Sometimes associated with ulcerative colitis, sclerosing cholangitis is marked by inflammation, scarring, and destruction of the bile ducts inside and outside of the liver. Symptoms may include floating stools, fatigue, itchy skin, fever/chills, jaundice, and dark urine.

  • Choledocholithiasis - The presence of one or more gallstones in the common bile duct. In many cases, the condition causes no symptoms unless the stone obstructs the bile duct. In addition to floating stools, symptoms commonly include pain in the right upper or middle upper abdomen (lasting for at least 30 minutes), fever, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Pancreatic cancer 

Treatments for Floating Stools

For the majority of people, floating stools are harmless and will go away without treatment.

 

Since diet can play a role in the development of floating stools, it's possible that adjusting your diet may help with this issue. For example, some medical experts suggest removing one or two foods from your diet at a time to test whether those foods may be contributing to floating stools or keeping a record of the foods you eat and your bowel movements. 

Floating Stools: When to Seek Medical Attention

While stools that occasionally float shouldn't alarm you, it's important to seek medical attention if you have changes in your stools or bowel movements, particularly if you have other symptoms, you're losing weight, or if the stools are also an abnormal color (such as pale, clay-colored, or black stools) or smell bad. Some types of stool are symptoms of a condition that requires treatment.

You should talk to a doctor if you see floating stools and they are accompanied by nausea, dizziness, stomach or abdominal pain, blood in your stools, and/or fever.

SEE ALSO: Loose Stool | Green Stool | Dark or Bright Red Stool | Mucus in Stool | Pellet-Shaped Stools | More Poop Colors Explained

Sources:

Bailey J, Carter NJ, Neher JO. FPIN's Clinical Inquiries: Effective management of flatulence. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Jun 15;79(12):1098-100.

Bouchoucha M, Devroede G, Benamouzig R. Are floating stools associated with specific functional bowel disorders? Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2015 Aug;27(8):968-73.

Goswami R, Tandon RK, Dudha A, Kochupillai N. Prevalence and significance of steatorrhea in patients with active Graves' disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 1998 Jul;93(7):1122-5.

Nakamura T, Takeuchi T. Pancreatic steatorrhea, malabsorption, and nutrition biochemistry: a comparison of Japanese, European, and American patients with chronic pancreatitis. Pancreas. 1997 May;14(4):323-33.

Ohge H, Levitt MD. Intestinal gas. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 16.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using any alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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