The so-called fat stool (medical: steatorrhea or steatorrhea ) always occurs when there is insufficient absorption of the fats supplied through food in the digestive tract. This can be caused by a food intolerance or a more serious illness such as pancreatic cancer.
What is fatty stool?
Fatty stool, also known as steatorrhea in technical terms, is understood by physicians as a reduced intake of food fats, which are then excreted again with the bowel movement. For comprehensive guide to hepatic coma, please visit growtheology.com.
The stool takes on a foamy and sticky consistency, which is accompanied by a pungent odor. The affected person also suffers from symptoms such as abdominal pain, flatulence or diarrhea. The reduced fat intake is often accompanied by a lack of protein intake, which can also lead to symptoms. Up to 10 g of fat can be excreted daily with the bowel movement.
Experts then speak of a pathological fatty stool. Steatorrhea is a symptom of an illness or a food intolerance and should therefore always be medically clarified and treated accordingly.
The causes of steatorrhea (fatty stool) lie in a pathologically reduced ability to absorb the fats supplied with food, which are then excreted again with the bowel movement.
A possible reason for this can be gluten intolerance, which leads to inflammation of the mucous membrane in the small intestine and thus to a disruption in fat absorption. Diseases of the pancreas can also cause steatorrhea, such as inflammation or cancer.
Gallstones or inflammation of the bile ducts can also be responsible for the occurrence of fatty stools. There may also be certain medications that impair the absorption of fat in the digestive tract. Especially drugs that are used to treat obesity often result in fatty stools, as do some antibiotics.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
In steatorrhea, the excreted stool contains a lot of fat. The consistency of the stool is often soft or sticky. Its volume can be unusually large. It is also possible that foam forms or the chair has an oily shine. The stool can also have an unpleasant odor.
A readily visible sign of steatorrhea is the excretion of fat that is not bound in the stool. The stool may have small fat spots that may be visible in the water closet after using the toilet. The stool can also contain large amounts of liquid fat, which forms small puddles after elimination. However, the indications of steatorrhea are not always so clear.
Steatorrhea can occur as a symptom of different diseases. Therefore, the fatty stool is often accompanied by other symptoms that differ depending on the underlying disease. The symptoms that often occur together with steatorrhea include primarily gastrointestinal complaints such as flatulence, abdominal pain and diarrhea (diarrhea).
People may lose weight if large amounts of fat are excreted undigested because the body does not absorb the energy it contains. Any weight loss can also only be indirectly related to the steatorrhea, which in turn depends on the underlying disease that also causes the fatty stool.
Diagnosis & History
Fatty stool can often be recognized by the person concerned. During the subsequent visit to the doctor, a detailed discussion takes place to inquire about the patient’s living conditions and history. A stool test provides information about the actual fat content.
Blood tests can help identify inflammation or gluten intolerance. Cancer can also be detected in this way. Ultrasound and X-ray examinations or computer tomography allow further conclusions to be drawn about the condition of the organs.
If steatorrhea remains untreated, the disease responsible for it can spread unhindered and, under certain circumstances, cause serious damage to the affected organs. Some diseases, such as pancreatic carcinoma, can even lead to the death of the patient if left untreated.
Whether and what complications steatorrhea causes depends primarily on the cause. If the fat stool is based on a gluten intolerance, deficiency symptoms and chronic infectious diseases can occur if treatment is not carried out. Since celiac disease weakens the entire organism, late effects such as cardiovascular diseases and allergies are also conceivable.
If, on the other hand, a disease of the pancreas is responsible for the fatty stool, this can lead to inflammation or even cancer. If left untreated, a tumor can even lead to the death of the patient. In the case of gallstones, steatorrhea is usually followed by an infection of the gallbladder, which can develop into what is known as a porcelain gallbladder. This increases the risk of developing gallbladder cancer.
Aside from the accompanying gastrointestinal problems, fatty stool itself has no serious consequences. Occasionally, however, it can cause constipation or even an intestinal blockage. The treatment of steatorrhea also starts at the causes.
If the pancreas is inflamed, for example, side effects from prescribed medication can occur. The same applies to celiac disease therapy. Gallstones require surgery, which has known risks such as infection, bleeding, or injury.
When should you go to the doctor?
Irregularities when going to the toilet should be observed and followed up. If there are any abnormalities when emptying the bowel, special care must be taken. This is often the first sign of an existing disease. If the observations are unique, there is usually no cause for concern.
Food intake was often not optimal or harmful substances such as alcohol were consumed. In the event of repeated or increasing changes, consultation with a doctor is advisable. This applies in particular if the peculiarities last for several days or weeks and show an increasing character. A soft or sticky stool indicates disorders of the organism.
If the volume of the excretions is unusually high compared to the food ingested, this is an indication of an existing disease. If you have general problems with the gastrointestinal tract, you should see a doctor for a check-up. An unpleasant odor from the excretions, flatulence or changes in weight are to be understood as warning signals from the body.
A general malaise, pain, diarrhea, or constipation needs to be investigated. If you notice when you go to the toilet that small puddles of fat are being excreted from the intestines, you should consult a doctor immediately and tell them about the observations.
Treatment & Therapy
Once steatorrhea has been clearly diagnosed and the cause of the disorder identified, appropriate therapy can then be initiated. This depends on the disease in question. Gluten intolerance often does not require any special treatment; however, the affected person must avoid foods containing gluten in order to remain symptom-free.
Inflammation of the pancreas should be treated immediately, otherwise it can become life-threatening. This is where various medications are administered and, under certain circumstances, a surgical procedure in which the affected organ parts have to be removed. The same applies to pancreatic carcinoma: surgical removal of the tumor in combination with chemotherapy promises good treatment success.
Gallstones should definitely be removed if they cause symptoms such as fatty stools. In many cases, they can be crushed, which is effective and less stressful for the patient. In many cases, sticking to a diet can also be useful in order to support the respective therapy and not put additional strain on the digestive tract. Basically, the earlier the disease is recognized and treated, the higher the probability of problem-free therapy and complete recovery.
Basically, the occurrence of fatty stools cannot be prevented directly. However, a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and sufficient exercise, as well as avoiding alcohol and nicotine, can help prevent the diseases responsible for fatty stool from developing. If the first signs of a fatty stool appear, it is advisable to consult a doctor in case of doubt. He can clarify the causes and, if necessary, initiate appropriate therapy.
After successful treatment of steatorrhea, depending on the cause, follow-up care may be essential. If celiac disease was the trigger for steatorrhea, it is unavoidable to avoid foods containing gluten even after treatment. In diseases of the pancreas (pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer) or the gastrointestinal tract (Crohn’s disease and other chronic inflammatory bowel diseases), regular check-ups of the blood as well as gastric and colonoscopies and, if necessary, ultrasound examinations of the organs are necessary even after steatorrhea has been resolved.
If gallstones were the cause of steatorrhea, no follow-up care is required provided they have been removed. If the cause was an inflammation of the bile ducts, regular check-ups of the bile ducts should be carried out even after the inflammation has been successfully treated, as the likelihood of recurrence of bile duct inflammation is increased in people who have already had one.
If taking certain medications such as antibiotics was the cause of the development of steatorrhea, these should be avoided in the future. In addition, regular observation of the stool can often detect a recurring steatorrhea at an early stage. This is where patients are asked to pay attention to changes in their stool (particularly a loamy color and a sour smell, but also diarrhea and unusually high stool volume) and to see a doctor early if they suspect renewed steatorrhea.
You can do that yourself
Self-treatment of steatorrhea is based on medical therapy. If there is an underlying gluten intolerance, the doctor will recommend a diet. If gallstones are the cause, they must be surgically removed. After a surgical intervention, the patient must take it easy. Bowel movements should return to normal within a few days after the operation.
If the fatty stool is caused by inflammation of the pancreas, the most important measure is to take the prescribed painkillers correctly. In addition, a lot of liquid must be consumed so that digestion can regulate itself quickly. As soon as the symptoms subside, light food can be resumed. The symptoms should have completely subsided after a week or two at the latest. A healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise contributes to recovery and prevents steatorrhea from recurring.
The diet must be changed after fatty stool. Patients follow a low-fat diet made up of protein and low-fiber foods. In particular, trans fats, i.e. industrially hardened fats, which are mainly found in frozen food and pasta, should be avoided. Alcohol should be avoided as far as possible. In addition, we recommend small meals that provide the body with little but high-quality protein. Children require further medical examination to rule out metabolic diseases as the cause.