The food we eat get digested in the body and the resultant waste materials are moved to the large intestine, where it is converted into feces, with the help of gut bacteria. These waste products of digestion are called stools, which are expelled by the body. In normal cases, stools are light to medium brown in color, with a consistency of regular toothpaste. It should be expelled without any strain and once it touches water, it should slowly sink. Any change in the color, consistency and other aspects of the stool can be an indication of some health problem, especially of the digestive system. One such condition is floating stools, which may or may not be associated with various medical conditions.
Why Stools Float
It is very uncommon for an ordinary person to inspect his stool and consult a doctor for possible health problems, unless he is having some obvious symptoms. In fact, most of us are unaware of the fact that changes in stool color or consistency can be an indication of some health problem. It is a fact and this explains why stool tests are conducted for diagnosing certain diseases. However, this does not mean that floating stools is always an indication of underlying diseases.
It can also be found to be associated with dietary changes.This is a condition that is generally associated with diet and the digestive system.
- Floating stools are most often associated with gastrointestinal infection, which is also accompanied by symptoms like diarrhea. Once the infection subsides the condition will get normal.
- In some cases, floating poop are caused by the excess amount of gas in the intestine. This can be due to a change in the diet or gastrointestinal infections. It can be the presence of gas that makes the stools float.
- Malabsorption of nutrients and fats may also lead to floating stools with diarrhea. Excess levels of fat in the stools (steatorrhea) can happen due to malabsorption. In this case, the stools may be foul-smelling too.
- It may also happen that the bacteria in the intestine act on the excess nutrients in the fecal matter and release more gas, which in turn makes the stools float.
There are various medical conditions (especially relating to the digestive system) that can alter the stool color as well as its consistency. In most cases, the condition resolves on its own within a few days, but some may require medical attention. For example, if the condition is caused by dietary changes, it may normalize as the digestive system gets adjusted to the diet or if the person avoids intake of food that triggers the condition. But, if there is any underlying medical condition, treatment is unavoidable.
The following are some of the commonly found causes of floating poop.
- Floating stools may be due to short bowel syndrome, a condition in which nutrients are not properly absorbed (malabsorption) due to severe intestinal diseases (like Crohn's disease), or the surgical removal of a large portion of the small intestine. In this case, the stool will be floating, foul-smelling and pale in color. The affected person may also experience swelling of the legs, fatigue and weight loss.
- Another cause for floating stool is cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that causes accumulation of mucus in the lungs and the digestive tract. This condition affects the pancreas which produces some of the important enzymes for digestion of food. The symptoms include excessive bloating, constipation, floating and foul-smelling stool that is pale in color.
- Those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can also develop floating poop. Some people cannot digest gluten, which is found in foods, like wheat and rye and the condition is called gluten intolerance. Celiac disease affects the lining of the small intestine, thereby preventing absorption of nutrients in the proper manner. The affected person may have diarrhea/constipation constantly or in between. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, change in appetite and floating stools with or without traces of blood.
- Floating stools may also be experienced by people, who have insufficient amounts of the sugar-digesting enzymes lactase, sucrase, or isomaltase (disaccharidase deficiency). Commonly known as lactose intolerance, this condition is caused by the person's inability to digest lactose, which is found in milk and milk products. If the affected person consumes dairy products, he/she will develop symptoms, like abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, diarrhea, floating and foul-smelling stools.
- Another congenital disorder, which is characterized by blockage in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder, called biliary atresia, may also cause floating poop. Apart from floating, foul-smelling or pale stools, this condition may cause other symptoms like dark urine, spleen enlargement, etc. The person may also experience very slow or no weight gain.
- A very rare inherited disorder called abetalipoproteinemia can also cause this condition. Otherwise known as Bassen-Kornzweig syndrome, this condition denotes the inability of the body to fully absorb fats in the food. This results in inefficient absorption of nutrients, thereby causing fatty, frothy and foul-smelling stools that are pale in color.
In short, floating stools is a condition which may be caused by minor reasons like changes in diet or indigestion. It may also occur as a symptom associated with some other diseases. This condition is also linked to weight loss as high fiber diets may sometimes cause floating poop. Some studies regarding floating poop suggest that a diet rich in calcium may also lead to this condition. It cannot be said that such stools is definitely an indication of a health problem and in some cases, the condition may become normal within a few days.
However, if it is accompanied with other symptoms or is persistent or recurring, you have to consult a doctor for further diagnosis. You may be required to provide information about your diet, recent changes in diet, family history and color of stools. You may also be asked to go for a stool sample test and some blood tests. If it is due to underlying medical conditions, treating such disease will be sufficient to remedy floating stools. Immediate medical attention must be sought, if the condition is also accompanied by blood in stools, fever or dizziness.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.