Steatorrhea: What Causes It And How Is It Treated?
Have you faced the situation where your poop wont just go down no matter the amount of flushing you do? This situation, called steatorrhea, can be so frustrating especially if you are the type who do doesnt look back to check of all your “deeds” in the WC have been flushed away.
Steatorrhea is the case because there is too much fat in the stool. Stool contains a mixture of undigested nutrients. These include proteins, fibers and salts. The stool usually also contains mucus, dead skin cells or other waste that the body can excrete. Discover in this article the causes of steatorrhea (which is different from keriorrhea) and their treatment.
Steatorrhea is not usually a major health concern and happens after eating meals high in fat, fiber, or potassium oxalate.
Some foods that are especially high in indigestible or difficult to digest fats and fibers are likely causes of steatorrhea.
Common foods and drinks known to cause steatorrhea include:
- nuts, especially whole nuts with the skin or shell intact
- oily, high-fat fish, such as escolar or oilfish which can be mislabelled butterfish or fatty tuna
- excessive alcohol
- artificial fats
- naturopathic or essential oils
- coconut and palm kernel oil
- whole wheat products
Severe or persistent symptoms of steatorrhea may indicate a condition such as malabsorption, enzyme deficiency or gastrointestinal disorders.
Diseases known to cause steatorrhea include:
- certain diseases of the pancreas
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Lesion or kidney failure
- Damage or liver failure
- Hypoparathyroidism or too little parathyroid hormone
- Gallbladder cancer, gallstones or gallbladder removal
- celiac Disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Metabolic states of lipids (fats) such as Gaucher’s disease and Tay-Sachs disease.
- Bacterial infections of the gastrointestinal tract, including Clostridium difficile and Whipple’s disease
- Gastric band surgery
- Damage or intestinal damage
- some diabetes medications
- kidney, liver, and pancreas cancer medications
- obesity medications, such as fat- and carb-blockers
- cholesterol medications
- parasitic infections, commonly Giardia
- tropical sprue
- congestive heart failure
- lymphoma or lymph damage
Steatorrhea is when a person has a loose but bulky stool with globs of fat and noticeable oil separation. Mild or short-term cases of steatorrhea may cause some limited discomfort.
Additional symptoms of mild steatorrhea include:
- foamy, frothy, or mucous-filled stool
- foul-smelling stool
- diarrhea or loose or runny stool that is bulkier than normal
- light-colored stool, often a light brown, green, orange, or yellow
- stool that floats
- stool that appears to be covered in a thick, greasy film
- stool that is difficult to flush away
- abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and gassiness
- heartburn and indigestion
- general exhaustion
- minor muscle, bone, and joint ache
Malnutrition and dehydration may be caused by severe or chronic cases of steatorrhea. Further, serious symptoms can occur as well, especially when associated with underlying medical conditions.
Symptoms associated with severe or chronic steatorrhea include:
- chronic loose, heavy, foul-smelling, fat-filled stool
- muscle weakness and pain
- chronic exhaustion
- weight loss
- reduced growth rate in children
- vision problems
- skin conditions
- neurological conditions
Usually, a doctor diagnoses steatorrhea by asking questions about a person’s symptoms, examining their medical history, and prescribing a stool fat test to determine the fat content of the stool.
Some doctors may use a 24-hour test, but fat in the faeces is best judged when collected for 72 hours.
To prepare for a stool fat test, a person must consume 100 grams (g) of fat daily for three days prior to the test and fast for five hours immediately prior to the test.
You must take a stool sample with a removal kit and instructions and bring it to your clinic or doctor.
When eating 100g of fat a day, a healthy person should excrete 7g or less fat per day into the stool.
Steatorrhea is usually defined as the excretion of more than 7 grams of fat within 24 hours when consuming 100 grams of fat per day.
If a steatorrhoea is diagnosed, the doctor may need additional tests to determine the underlying cause.
The treatment of steatorrhoea depends on the cause and severity of the symptoms. Mild cases of steatorrhea can often be successfully treated at home with rest and basic care.
Following certain dietary guidelines can also help reduce the risk of oily bowel movements.
Home remedies for the treatment and prevention of steatorrhea are:
- Stay hydrated
- Reduction of fiber intake
- reduce fat consumption in the diet
- stop smoking or reduce smoking
- Stop or reduce alcohol consumption.
- Reduce or limit the consumption of potassium oxalate.
- Increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins in the diet by taking supplements such as vitamins A, D, E and K.
- Increased intake of vitamin B-12, folic acid, iron, magnesium and calcium through the diet.
- Take over-the-counter medications for diarrhea, including loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol)
- Take anti-acid, anti-swelling and over-the-counter medicines
- Severe or chronic cases of steatorrhea usually require medical intervention. People who suffer from steatorrhea due to an underlying condition usually also need medical treatment.
Medications for the treatment and prevention of steatorrhea are:
- Intravenous fluids (IV) to restore electrolytes and stop dehydration.
- Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)
- Proton pump inhibitor or PPIs
- MHC oils
When to see a doctor
Severe chronic steatorrhea requires medical attention. Mild to moderate steatorrhea can only cause dehydration and mild discomfort. However, these symptoms can lead to serious illnesses such as heart attack and organ failure if left untreated.
Steatorrhea can also be an indication of underlying medical problems that need to be treated. These include gastrointestinal disorders, enzymatic deficiencies or hypoparathyroidism.
The presence of fat in a stool specimen may be helpful in diagnosing these conditions.