Floating Poop: 6 Possible Causes

youGlancing at the toilet bowl after leaving is natural. With that, you probably notice that your poop usually sinks. So… what does it mean if your poop suddenly floats? Experts say floaters can occur due to changes in your diet, or they can be a sign of an underlying and sometimes even serious health condition. Here, find out everything you ever wanted to know about floating poop (and then some).

Why might your poop float?

There is a wide range here. Floating poop could be nothing, or it could be something your doctor needs to look at.

Gas: “The most common reason for floating stools is your diet, and usually gas in your diet,” says Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “People on a high fiber diet may have floating stools.” For most people, if you cut back on fruits and vegetables for a few days, your poop can start to sink to the bottom again.

Malabsorption: Floating poop can also be a sign that your body isn’t absorbing nutrients as well as it should, especially if your bowel movements are particularly stinky or have an oily sheen, says Ellen M. Stein, MD, associate professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “One cause of oily, floating stool is malabsorption from a lack of pancreatic enzymes,” she says. “Patients with a history of pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, or pancreatic enzyme insufficiency may not have enough pancreatic enzymes in the intestine.”

Those enzymes help digest protein and fat, and without those enzymes, nutrients are quickly transported through the intestine and aren’t absorbed as well as they should be, says Dr. Stein. In this case, gut bacteria digest the nutrients a bit, leading to a “foul odor,” he says.

“Fat and oil tend to float to the top of the water, because water and oil don’t mix and oil and fat are lighter than water,” explains Dr. Stein.

Nutrient intolerance: Having lactose intolerance or other intolerance to certain nutrients can also cause floating poop, says Dr. Stein. “Rapid transit doesn’t provide enough time for enzymes to work on food, and you produce the same types of greasy floaters, usually without an oily sheen,” she says.

Olestra: Eating a lot of olestra, which is a fat substitute in some chips and other products, can also make poop float, adds Dr. Stein. “This is a deliberately designed non-absorbable fat, and it will cause this kind of watery, oily stool,” she says.

Giardia: One other thing to keep in mind: The giardia parasite, which you can catch from drinking from freshwater lakes and streams, can also cause greasy, foul-smelling floating feces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Possible symptom of cancer: While it’s unlikely to be the cause of your floating poop, it’s important to mention that oily, floating poop can also be a symptom of pancreatic cancer, says the American Cancer Society. It can also be a sign of colon cancer, Stein says.

How common is this?

In general, it’s more common for poop to sink rather than float, says Dr. Bedford. However, it’s hard to say for sure how common floating BMs are. A 1972 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at the poop of 33 healthy subjects and found that nine had poop that floated, while 24 had poop that sank. But this is an old studio that was small, so it’s hard to take too much away from it.

As for the potential causes of health conditions and diseases that can affect your poop, it varies. “It’s relatively uncommon to have a pancreatic enzyme deficiency,” says Dr. Stein. “Is very It is common to experience lactose intolerance. Sometimes Giardia occurs.”

When should I see a doctor?

If your poop floats once or twice and this isn’t a constant thing for you, Dr. Bedford says it’s probably related to your diet. But if this happens to you regularly, Dr. Stein recommends that you see your primary care doctor.

“If you have a change in bowel habits, your doctor will ask you to send a stool sample to the lab to check for infection or other causes,” says Dr. Stein. “If you continue to experience symptoms beyond a few weeks, a colonoscopy with biopsies may be recommended to make sure there are no colitis (inflammation of the colon), cancer (colon cancer), or other issues that could be contributing to your symptoms.”

Is there anything you can do with the floating poop?

There is nothing in floating poop by itself that is harmful. But if you notice that you regularly get floaters, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to make sure you’re not dealing with an underlying health condition. They can help determine the probable cause and from there can suggest a custom solution.

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