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Stools - floating

Definition

Stools that float are usually due to poor absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) or too much gas (flatulence).

Alternative Names

Floating stools

Considerations

Most causes of floating stools are harmless. Usually, floating stools will go away without treatment.

Floating stools alone are not a sign of an illness or other health problem.

Common Causes

Many things can cause floating stools. Most of the time, floating stools are due to what you eat. A change in your diet may cause an increase in gas. Increased gas in the stool allows it to float.

Floating stools may also happen if you have a gastrointestinal infection.

Floating, greasy stools that are foul smelling may be due to severe malabsorption, especially if you are losing weight. Malabsorption means your body is not properly absorbing nutrients.

Most floating stools are not caused by an increase in the fat content of the stool.

Home Care

 If a change in diet has caused floating stools or other health problems, try to determine which food is to blame. Eliminating this from your diet may be helpful.

Call your health care provider if

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have changes in your stools or bowel movements. Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have bloody stools with weight loss, dizziness, and fever.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as:

  • When did you first notice the floating stools?
  • Does it happen all the time or from time to time?
  • What is your basic diet?
  • Does a change in your diet change your stools?
  • Do you have other symptoms?
  • Are the stools foul smelling?
  • Are the stools an abnormal color (especially pale or clay-colored stools)?

A stool sample may be needed. Blood tests may be done. In most cases, however, these tests will not be needed.

Treatment depends on the specific diagnosis.

References

Bailey J. FPIN's Clinical Inquiries: Effective management of flatulence. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79:1098-1100.

Ohge H, Levitt MD. Intestinal gas. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010: chap 16.


Review Date: 4/17/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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