Certain problems in the digestive system may result in poor fat or oil absorption, leading to release of oily stool. The condition, known as Steatorrhea, may vary in severity and frequency depending on its causes. In affected persons, the stool, which floats on toilet water, might also have a strong odor. In some cases, the patient may also get oil drops in their pants when walking, sitting or sleeping.
Causes of oily stool
Many things may influence a person to produce greasy feces. These can be classified into the following categories:
Food containing lots of oils- especially indigestible oils- may contribute to the rise of this condition. Oils are usually digested in the small intestines. When they are too much however, some may pass through the tract into the large intestines before they are processed and so get deposited in the rectum.
One is likely to fall victim if they eat foods rich in excess oils. These include whole nuts and artificial fat based products. Some people have also experienced this condition after eating oil fish as well as jojoba oil. Under such circumstances, minimizing intake of these foods restores the feces to normal.
Medication and surgery
Certain medications may affect the absorption of fats in the body. Drugs used to treat acromelagy for instance have shown this property. The same applies to certain weight loss supplements, especially those which work by inhibiting digestive enzymes. It usually gets worse when the patient misuses these.
Certain surgical interventions may also lead to this condition. The two most common surgeries that can lead to Steatorrhea are those that involve the removal of gall bladder and the small intestines.
When the gall bladder develops problems that threaten to destroy other organs such as the liver and pancreas, eliminating it becomes necessary. While a person can live without this organ, its removal affects potency of bile juice: the liquid is usually secreted from the liver and stored for a while in the gall bladder, where its concentration is increased before it is released into food. Without this “ripening”, the juice loses some of its potency and this means it cannot digest fats properly.
Inflammation, infections or even cancer may necessitate removal of the affected sections of the intestine. (A normal intestine is about 19 feet long, though a person can survive with as much as half of that length).it takes a while before the organ adapts to its new length. Meanwhile, most of the fat that the individual takes will end up as wastes. The doctor may recommend higher fat consumption in order to mitigate this.
Some individuals are genetically predisposed to Steatorrhea. Though very rare, there are people whose bodies either produce defective bile juice or too little of it. Far from fats, bile is crucial for digestion of many other nutrients and vitamins, and so its inadequacy can lead to many other problems apart from release of oily, smelly stool.
Short Bowel Syndrome, which results in death of a large section of the intestine and interferes with normal food processing, may also arise due to genetic factors. The condition is also characterized by stunted growth, diarrhea and pain in the abdomen especially after meals.
Another common genetic disorder that is symptomized by release of greasy feces is Cystic Fibriosis. The condition occurs due to abnormal development of secretion cell membranes. This leads to production of excessively thick secretions of digestive fluids, sweat as well as mucus. In children it may also cause difficulties in passing of stool. Other accompanying symptoms for cystic Fibriosis include: clubbing of fingers, breathing problems, excessive coughing, and infertility in adults.
In addition to these causes, Celiac disease patients also have body systems that are genetically intolerant to gluten and this complication may cause production of oily stool. If they happen to eat wheat based foods, their immune systems react with the villi in the intestines, making these organs inefficient. This usually gets worse as the individual continues to consume more gluten products.
Parasitic infections cause fat malabsorption in two main ways: they either overcrowd inside the bile duct and cause its blockage, or feed on the intestinal villi and make them ineffective.
Zollinger–Ellison syndrome is a condition that arises due to body invasion by a pancreatic tumor which produces chemicals that elicit excessive secretion of stomach acids. In large volumes, the acids overwhelm intestinal linings, causing ulcers to organs. With this, the organs can no longer perform fat processing effectively.
Unchecked fat loss may lead to multitude of problems including: malnutrition, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, chronic abdominal pains, and weakened immune system. For some people, it may also cause shock and confusion. Various treatment paths are pursued depending on the cause. Treatment may be recommended for primary disease causing oily stool. A patient may have to reduce intake of fat and be put on nutritional support. Where malabsorption of fat is occurring due to pancreatitis, pancreatic-enzyme replacement may be advised.
Recommendations for either the treatment of the primary disease, limitation of fat intake, nutritional support, or pancreatic-enzyme replacement are made depending on the disease process.