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Stools - floating

Contents of this page:


Lower digestive anatomy
Lower digestive anatomy

Alternative Names    Return to top

Floating stools

Definition    Return to top

Stools that float are generally associated with some degree of malabsorption of nutrients or excessive flatus (gas).

Considerations    Return to top

Floating stools are seen in a variety of different situations. Most are diet-related, or caused by episodes of diarrhea that accompany a gastrointestinal infection. A change in diet can lead to an increase in the amount of gas produced by the bacteria found in the (healthy) gastrointestinal tract.

Similarly, acute gastrointestinal (GI) infections can result in increased gas in the intestines, due to rapid movement of food through the GI tract. One wrong idea is that floating stools are caused by an increase in the fat content of the stool. In fact, it is increased gas in the stool that make it less dense and allow it to float.

Another cause of floating stools is malabsorption, in which the body can't properly digest and absorb fat and other nutrients from the GI tract. More than 2 weeks of diarrhea with floating stools is often seen in people suffering from malabsorption.

Increased levels of nutrients in the stool (which have not been absorbed by the GI tract) are supplied to the normal bacteria that live in the gut. These bacteria in turn produce more gas. This results in more gas-rich stools that float.

Causes    Return to top

Dietary changes, diarrhea, and malabsorption can cause floating stools. Most causes are harmless and the floating stools will go away by themselves when the infection ends or the normal bacteria in the GI tract adjust to the changes in the diet.

The following diseases may also cause floating stools:

Home Care    Return to top

Floating stools alone do not indicate an illness or problem, and they do not require home care. If a change in diet has caused problems, try to find and eliminate the offending food.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

It is important to discuss a change in stool characteristics with a doctor if it continues for more than a couple of weeks. If blood, fever, or dizziness accompanies these changes, consult a doctor immediately.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit    Return to top

A health care provider will normally take a family history and disease history, and perform a physical examination.

A stool sample and blood tests may be requested. In most cases, however, this will not be required.

Medical history questions documenting floating stools in detail may include:

Treatment depends on the specific diagnosis. Strictly follow your provider's instructions, including prescribed diets.

Update Date: 3/8/2008

Updated by: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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