Here’s Why You Have a Greasy Stool and What to Do About It

Here's Why You Have a Greasy Stool and What to Do about It
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Passing a greasy stool usually indicates that there is an issue with your digestive system. Usually, stool with a higher amount of fatty substance has an oily look and it floats in the toilet. Fatty stool often sticks to the sides of the toilet bowl and it is more difficult to flush away. Depending on the reason why the stool is greasy, it could happen occasionally. For example you may have oily stool after a fatty meal, or it could be a chronic health problem with a serious underlying cause.

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The medical name for greasy stools is steatorrhea. Oily stools can have a bulky, pale appearance with a strong, offensive odor. Your stool can become fatty or greasy because there is not enough bile in the digestive tract to break down the fats, or as a result of a food intolerance or vitamin deficiency. Steatorrhea often happens because food passes through your digestive system too quickly. But there are other reasons for passing fatty stools that I’ll disuses in this article.

Because you can tell a lot about your general health from your stool, any major changes in your bowel movements should be reported to your doctor. This includes any changes in the color of your stools, for example, passing stools with white bits or black tarry stool.

In this article, you will find out the causes and symptoms of bowel movements that are greasy and fatty. We will also examine some remedies to help get your digestive system working better to prevent passing greasy stool.

Causes and Symptoms of Greasy Stool

It is quite easy to identify if you are passing fatty stools. The high-fat content of the stool will make your stool bulky with an oily appearance that smells foul. You may even notice that your stool is frothy with a pale look to it.

According to Medscape, steatorrhea also causes stools to float on the top of the toilet water and are difficult to flush. You may also notice drops of oil or an oily film on the water’s surface.1

Here are the most common causes of greasy stool and what you can do to improve your digestion.

Malabsorption

Malabsorption is a very common reason for passing greasy bowel movements. Malabsorption happens when your body is unable to absorb fats, nutrients, and vitamins from the intestinal tract. According to Dr. William Blahd on WebMD, malabsorption can be caused by a number of health conditions like celiac disease, parasites, low levels of digestive enzymes, and pancreatitis.2

Dr. Subodh Lal on MedlinePlus states that the symptoms of malabsorption are fatty stools or chronic diarrhea. Along with bulky greasy stools, malabsorption can cause stomach cramping, bloating, and gas.3

To help improve the consistency of your stool and reduce the stool’s greasiness, Dr. Lal says that it’s important to address the underlying health issue. Some treatment methods that doctors use for malabsorption include increasing iron and vitamin B12 intake and taking digestive enzymes.

Food intolerance or allergy

A food intolerance or allergy can be one reason why your stools are pale, greasy and oily. Food intolerances can affect how food is absorbed in the digestive tract. This can result in stools that are bulky and oily or cause loose watery stool. Along with the discomfort in your bowel movements, you may also have bloating, excess gas, and abdominal discomfort.

According to Dr. Richard Draper on Patient.info, food intolerances such as lactose intolerance and fructose intolerance, as well as food allergies like a milk protein allergy can cause malabsorption resulting in greasy stool.4

If you suffer from lactose intolerance, you can try using some great homemade milk substitutes to prevent fatty stool and abdominal cramping.

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Vitamin or mineral deficiency

With some people, a vitamin or mineral deficiency can cause stools to become greasy and oily. Usually, vitamin B12 or iron deficiency is caused by another underlying disease like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. However, anemia caused by a lack of vitamin B12 or iron can result in passing greasy stool.

For example, the journal Clinical Methods under the chapter “Anemia” stated that people who have folate (water-soluble B vitamin) deficiency may also have symptoms of steatorrhea.5

Because the digestive tract can’t absorb enough minerals and vitamins from foods, it means that malabsorption can also be a cause of a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Doctors from Medscape say that anemia is often associated with malabsorption along with bulky, oily stools that float on the water.1

To resolve the problems of greasy stools that are caused by a vitamin or mineral deficiency, it’s important to see your doctor to arrange a blood test. This will establish if the malabsorption is caused by a vitamin B12 or iron deficiency. You can also read my article on how to increase iron levels in your blood for some helpful advice.

Gastrointestinal infections

A bacterial infection in your gastrointestinal tract (GI) could be a reason why you sometimes pass greasy stools. Infections in your gut can cause inflammation and great discomfort resulting in vomiting, diarrhea after eating, and severe stomach pains.

According to the A.T. Still University, certain forms of gastroenteritis which are caused by infection of your intestinal system can cause greasy diarrhea with a foul smell. Gastroenteritis will also cause abdominal cramps, excess gas, and general discomfort in your digestive system.6

Gastroenteritis also one of the causes for having a sour stomach.

Usually, the symptoms of a GI tract infection pass when the toxins are flushed out from your system. If you have food poisoning or any other kind of gastrointestinal upset, you can try the bland diet to help your digestive system recover. This diet incorporates foods that are gentle on your stomach and don’t put extra strain on your digestive system.

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Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a digestive problem that can cause you to pass greasy stools that may stick to the toilet bowl. People who suffer from celiac disease have an adverse reaction to food and drink that contain gluten.

Apart from causing discomfort when you have a bowel movement, celiac disease can cause diarrhea, constipation, excess gas, and abdominal cramping and pain when gluten-containing food or drink is consumed.

Dr. Mohammed Wehbi on eMedicineHealth says that celiac disease causes malabsorption which results in fatty stools. Malabsorption can also cause other health problems like vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.7

One of the best ways to treat celiac disease and prevent its symptoms is to rigorously avoid foods containing gluten. Doctors from the National Health Service say that this includes wheat, barley, and rye products.8

There are more symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity than just passing smelly, fatty stools. Some of these are joint pain and inflammation, frequent migraines and headaches, skin rashes, and drastic changes in mood.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Another digestive issue that can cause steatorrhea along with its related symptoms is inflammatory bowel disease. IBD is a chronic inflammation of any part of your digestive tract. Some common forms of IBD that causes poor digestive function are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease affecting the large intestine).

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causes greasy stools because inflammation in the digestive tract doesn’t allow all the fatty substances from ingested food to be absorbed properly. According to the journal Inflammatory Bowel Disease, this results in impaired intestinal motility and changes in the digestive system.9

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IBD treatment usually involves drug therapy, but to manage the symptoms of IBD the Mayo Clinic recommends dietary changes such as limiting dairy products, trying low-fat foods, limiting high-fiber foods and avoiding foods that worsen your symptoms.12

Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) can affect your body’s production of digestive enzymes and cause greasy, smelly stools. Digestive enzymes are needed to break down fats, vitamins, and nutrients from food. If the pancreas doesn’t produce enough pancreatic juice, stools will become fatty and have a strong foul smell when they are passed.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that chronic pancreatitis will cause your stools to become oily and smelly. You will probably also experience severe pain under your rib cage and your symptoms may get worse after eating.10

To prevent bouts of pancreatitis, doctors recommend reducing your alcohol intake, choosing a low-fat diet, quitting smoking immediately, and keeping yourself well hydrated.

Liver disease

Any blockage or damage to your liver and the bile ducts can result in regularly passing greasy stool that is pale and may be frothy as well. Your liver is also connected with your digestive system because it produces bile that helps to absorb fats from your food. Any issue with bile production in your digestive system will cause stools to be bulky and fatty.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that steatorrhea is very common among patients with liver disease. The researchers found that liver disease can damage the small bowel resulting in greasy, oily stools.11

To prevent liver disease and its symptoms, it’s important to keep your liver in good health and avoid habits that damage the liver.

To keep your liver in good health, you should drink more lemon juice mixed with olive oil. You may also want to read about the surprising connection between drinking coffee and liver health. Also, foods like citrus fruits, garlic, and leafy green vegetables can help keep your liver in good health and your digestive system working properly.

Read these related articles:

Article Sources
  1. Medscape. Malabsorption clinical presentation.
  2. WebMD. Malabsorption syndrome.
  3. MedlinePlus. Malabsorption.
  4. PatientInfo. Gastrointestinal malabsorption.
  5. ClinicalMethods. Anemia.
  6. ATSU. Infections and intoxications of the intestines.
  7. eMedicineHealth. Celiac sprue.
  8. NHS. Coeliac disease.
  9. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2015 Feb;21(2):476-83
  10. MayoClinic. Pancreatitis.
  11. Can Med Assoc J. 1971 Dec 4; 105(11): 1143-1146, 1154.
  12. MayoClinic. Irritable bowel syndrome.
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