Fat in Stool [Steatorrhea]: What Oily-Greasy Poop Really Means

Healthy poop is a sign that your digestive tract is working properly.

Usually, eating well and exercising can help maintain regular and normal looking stool. However, even if you do everything correctly, there may be problems lurking in your digestive system.

In this article, we will be discussing fat in your stool, a common but misunderstood problem. We will be explaining why it happens, other symptoms it may come with, and what to do when you pass an oily or greasy poop.

It is medically referred to as steatorrhea, just in case you hear that name, it means the same thing as fat in stool.

What Causes Fat In Stool?

When digested food enters your small intestines, it is small enough to be absorbed into your body. In order to make it across the microvilli of the small intestines, the proper enzymes must carry it across.

If fats from food are not broken down properly, they will not be absorbed and instead will continue into your large intestines. They will be excreted in the feces along with other nutrients which cannot be digested by your body.

Excess fat that is found in the feces can be due to different causes, some of them listed below:

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)

When your pancreas has a problem producing digestive enzymes, one of them being pancreatic lipase, fats will not be able to be broken down. People at risk for EPI are anyone whose pancreas is inflamed or damaged, for example, those with cystic fibrosis or pancreatic cancer.

Bile

Bile works to emulsify fats in your food to help with its digestion. Problems with bile production or secretion lead to steatorrhea. Some examples include if your liver cannot synthesize bile, a blocked bile duct or poor quality of bile production.

Intestinal problems

The microvilli of your small Intestines may be misshapen or destroy, hindering fat absorption. One way this can occur is due to different types of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) related diseases such as Crohn’s and Celiac disease.

Drugs

Diet pills can get in the way of fat absorption if they block the digestion of fats.

Whole nuts

Eating too many whole nuts, especially with the skin and shell, can lead to incomplete digestion.

Olestra

Scientists created Olestra as a fat substitute which tastes and acts like real fats but it cannot be digested by the body. As a result, it is secreted in your feces.

Symptoms And Diagnosis Of Steatorrhea

You’ve noticed your stool is looking oily or greasy but unsure of what it all means. While it can be worrying and a bit unpleasant to look at your stool, it’s a good way to understand what is happening internally in your body.

But first, what does steatorrhea look like? Here are some symptoms to look out for. Keep in mind that not all of them may apply to each case.

  • Bulky poop that is difficult to flush
  • Pale yellow color
  • Oily texture
  • Foul smell
  • Floating feces
  • Drops of oil in the toilet
  • Diarrhea or loose stools

Think your stool fits the requirements? By measuring the fat content in your feces, your doctor can determine if you have steatorrhea. There are 2 ways to do this: both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Quantitative

Before this test is done, you consume 100 grams of fat per day. Do this for 3 days leading up to the test. A stool sample is then collected and analyzed. The expected amount of stool should be up to 7 grams of fat. Steatorrhea is confirmed when it’s about 12 grams of fat.

Qualitative

This test counts the number of fat droplets found in the stool which can be seen and analyzed under a microscope. The two types of fat droplets are neutral fats and fatty acids. Normal amounts would be someone who has fewer than 60 neutral fat droplets and fewer than100 fatty acid droplets. Having more than the normal amount would result in a diagnosis of steatorrhea.

Other symptoms which may present with steatorrhea are fat malabsorption symptoms like:

  • Ongoing diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Anemia
  • Gallstones
  • Hormonal imbalance

How Is Fat In Stool Treated?

Knowing why your poop is oily will allow you to treat the underlying cause. Its treatment also depends on its severity of symptoms. Mild cases can be treated successfully at home

Here are some ideas you can try at home for preventing and treating steatorrhea.

Hydration

Staying hydrated may also help you reduce the risk of fatty stool. it is recommended to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.

Limiting caffeine

Caffeine can increase diarrhea so it should be limited. Avoid drinking large amounts of regular coffee and tea, as well as sodas and chocolate.

Eating good fats

The type of fats you ingest will have a real impact on fat absorption. Concentrate on eating healthy fats such as avocado, eggs, fish, coconut oil, etc. and stay away from processed fats.

Limit fiber intake

Whole grains and oats will slow down digestion as they are difficult to absorb. For someone with malabsorption issues, this is good to stay away from.

Limit Alcohol and Cigarette smoking

Excessive alcohol intake and cigarette smoking can destroy your pancreas. Hence reducing or stopping their intake is beneficial.

Nutritional supplements

Malabsorption of fats affects the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Supplements containing vitamins A, D, E, K as well as iron, folic acid, magnesium, and calcium are recommended. Health experts at https://www.reviewy.org/ offer in-depth analyses of available supplements currently on the market.

Over-the-counter medications

Antacids and antidiarrheal medications do not need prescriptions and can offer fast relief.

In moderate to severe cases, medical intervention is needed. Intravenous fluids are used for hydration and to restore electrolyte. Other medications used for treatment are:

  • pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)
  • Proton-pump inhibitors (PPI)
  • MHC oils

Surgery is usually necessary for a blocked bile duct in your body.

When to see a doctor?

It is recommended to see a doctor when symptoms are severe and persistent. It can also be a sign of underlying disease that needs medical attention. If left untreated, it can lead to organ failure.

Conclusion

Finding oily feces in your toilet bowl does not need to be an immediate cause for alarm. However, it is important to get a proper diagnosis in order to correctly treat the underlying cause, so you can get back to feeling like yourself again.

Author Bio

Regina Thompson is a registered dietician specializing in gastrointestinal disorders. She is committed to raising awareness to childhood obesity, and in her spare time, teaches healthy cooking classes to teens.

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Dr. Omiete Charles-Davies

Dr. Omiete holds a bachelor's degree in medicine and surgery. He's a licensed medical practitioner who loves to share health information in a simple manner. For fun, he loves to travel and experience new cultures.

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