Steatorrhea or steatorrhoea is the presence of excess fat in feces. Stools may be bulky and difficult to flush, have a pale and oily appearance and can be especially foul-smelling. An oily anal leakage or some level of fecal incontinence may occur.
The typical signs and symptoms of steatorrhea include but not limited to diarrhea as more fluid is drawn to the intestinal lumen, weight loss and fatigue because a major source of energy cannot be utilized.
Flatulence as the bacteria act upon the undigested food creating gases such as methane and hydrogen, as well as edema from the associated protein loss (severe enough may cause ascites or fluid in the abdomen).
If you have steatorrhea, your stools will be:
- Foul smelling
- They tend to float because they have a higher gas content.
- The stools also tend to be covered in a greasy film. You might even see drops of oil in the water inside the toilet bowl.
Too much fat in your stool suggests your digestive system isn’t breaking down or absorbing the fat adequately.
Fatty stool is also a symptom of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). EPI is a condition where your pancreas doesn’t make or release enough of the enzymes needed to help your digestive system break down food and absorb nutrients.
Also, Steatorrhea is a common complication as a result of a mechanical block in the biliary tract or by intrahepatic lesions. When bile salt entry into the duodenum is hindered, the emulsification of dietary fats is incomplete.
The treatment for steatorrhea depends on the cause and severity of symptoms. Mild cases of steatorrhea can often be successfully treated at home with rest and basic care.
Following certain dietary guidelines may also help reduce the risk of fatty stool.
Home remedies for treating and preventing steatorrhea include:
- Staying hydrated
- Reducing dietary fiber intake
- Reducing dietary fat intake
- Quitting or reducing smoking
- Stopping or reducing alcohol use
- Increasing dietary intake of vitamin B-12, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and calcium
- Antidiarrheal medications, including Loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate.
Severe or chronic cases of steatorrhea will normally need medical intervention. People with steatorrhea because of an underlying medical condition will also usually need medical treatment.
Medications used to treat and prevent steatorrhea include:
- Intravenous fluids (IV) to restore electrolytes and stop dehydration
- Anti-diarrheal medications
- Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)
- Proton-pump inhibitors or PPIs