Read below about greasy stool, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your greasy stool from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having greasy stool

Take Quiz

Greasy Stool Symptoms

Now and then, all of us might suffer from greasy or fatty stools that typically float in the toilet and are hard to flush. Occasional fat in the stool is normal, especially after a very rich meal at a fancy French restaurant, for example, where you probably feasted on high-fat foods. However, persistent fatty stools are not normal and may indicate some type of disorder in the gut. Because greasy stool symptoms typically indicate an inability to absorb fats and, therefore, fat-soluble vitamins, the condition must be addressed to prevent deficiency in these nutrients.

Greasy stool, or steatorrhea, means that you have too much fat in your stool. Sometimes, this condition can be caused by weak bile in the system, as bile helps us to break down the fats in our stool effectively and absorb all our fat-soluble vitamins from them, like vitamins A, E, D, and K [1, 3]. Too much fat in the stool can also be a sign of malabsorption, meaning you aren't absorbing nutrients well when food passes from the stomach into the intestines[2, 3].

Consistently greasy stools are a sign of some problem with fat absorption in the body.[4] Over time, such inability to absorb fats can cause all kinds of problems, as essential fatty acids are crucial to virtually all of of our systems, from keeping our eyes moist and liquid, to keeping our skin youthful, to manufacturing hormones. So see a doctor if greasy stool symptoms are a persistent problem.

If you have steatorrhea you'll typically notice a cluster of symptoms that accompany the fatty stool such as:

Greasy Stool Causes Overview

Greasy stools are a sign of a malabsorption of fats in the digestive tract [2, 3]. A wide range of diseases and disorders can cause this problem with absorption.

Most common causes of greasy stools:

  • Pancreatitis: The pancreas manufactures enzymes that help us break down fats properly. They work in conjunction with bile (produced by the liver) to break fat globules down into tiny fat particles and help us extract nutrients from our foods. If the pancreas is not functioning properly, you may not be breaking down fat effectively, causing the greasy stool [5, 6, 7].
  • Whipple disease: This disease is caused by a bacterial infection in the intestines. Whipple's disease negatively impacts your body's ability to break down both fat and carbohydrates and is a common cause of malabsorption and greasy stool [8, 9].
  • Food intolerances: Allergies and intolerances to foods like dairy or gluten can also impact nutrient absorption in the gut, leading to fatty stools [10].
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and Crohn's disease: All of these conditions of the bowel and intestine are inflammatory conditions that impact how well nutrients and fats are absorbed by the body. Therefore, gut issues like these can all cause greasy, fatty stools [11, 12, 13].
  • Cystic fibrosis: This disease, usually symptomatic since early childhood, causes the mucous membranes in the body to become sticky as mucus becomes thick. This mucus blocks ducts and valves, or passages in the pancreas, and prevents the normal release of bile and enzymes that break down fat. Greasy, foul-smelling stools are one of the hallmark symptoms of this disease [14].

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Greasy Stool

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced greasy stool. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is very common problem that affects the large intestine. It can cause stomach pain, cramps, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Doctors think that IBS is caused by the brain sending wrong messages to the bowels, such as during times of high stress, causing physical changes.

    IBS is a chronic condition that may last for years, but it is not life-threatening and does not damage the bowels or lead to more serious illnesses.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, constipation, stool changes
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Chronic Gallstones

    Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver.

    Curable with surgical treatment, but not necessary unless symptoms begin

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, vomiting, pain in the upper right abdomen
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Gallstones

    Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver.

    Curable with surgical treatment, but not necessary unless symptoms begin

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, loss of appetite, pain in the upper right abdomen, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with gallstones:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache)
    Symptoms that never occur with gallstones:
    abdominal pain that improves after passing stools
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Chronic Hepatitis c

    Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that is carried in human blood. It spreads through contact with infected blood, such as through infected needles, toothbrushes, or razors, through unprotected sex with an infected person, and from mother to baby during childbirth.

    Hepatitis C is a chronic infection and without treatment the effect on life expectancy is difficult to predict.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, loss of appetite, joint pain
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic hepatitis c:
    pain in the lower right abdomen, pain in the lower left abdomen, pain in the upper left abdomen, pain around the belly button
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Ulcerative Colitis

    Ulcerative Colitis (UC) is a condition that causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloody bowel movements. These symptoms occur because the large intestine (colon) has become inflamed and acquired sores, known as “ulcers.”

    Chronic

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, general abdominal pain, fever, back pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Greasy Stool Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having greasy stool.

    Take Quiz
  6. 6.Pancreatic Cancer

    Pancreatic neoplasm affects the pancreas, an organ in the abdomen, and causes symptoms like abdominal pain, back pain, urine changes, fatigue, and weight loss.

    The treatment & prognosis for pancreatic neoplasm vary and are dependent on the disease severity.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, unintentional weight loss
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Celiac Disease

    Celiac disease is an immune disease in which gluten damages the small intestine. Avoid products containing gluten such as wheat, rye, & barley.

    Upon starting a gluten-free diet, nausea and bloating are likely to improve within a few days or weeks. It may take months or longer to feel completely better.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, stomach bloating, nausea, constipation, diarrhea
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Cystic Fibrosis

    Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disease of the mucus and sweat glands, affecting multiple organs, especially the lungs. The mucus clogs the lungs, causing breathing problems and making it easy for bacteria to grow. This can lead to problems such as repeated lung infections and lung damage.

    While cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease with no cure, many excellent therapies can help manage your symptoms.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, productive cough, salty-tasting skin, decreased exercise tolerance, recurring problem with leaking urine
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Diabetes Insipidus

    Diabetes insipidus (DI) is caused by a lack of, or decreased sensitivity to the hormone vasopressin. Vasopressin is needed for the kidneys to concentrate urine, making sure you do lose to much fluids. If this function is impaired, it will result in urinating frequently and large amounts, extreme thirst and dehydration.

    Can be temporary or permanent.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, constipation, excesive thirst, dry mouth
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Acute Pancreatitis

    Acute pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, which creates and releases insulin and glucagon to keep the sugar levels in your blood stable. It also creates the enzymes that digest your food in the small intestine. When these enzymes accidentally get activated in the pancreas, they digest the pancreas itself, causing pain and inflammation.

    Acute pancreatitis typically goes away after a few days with treatment. Untreated, it can be deadly

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, being severely ill, severe abdominal pain, fever
    Symptoms that always occur with acute pancreatitis:
    constant abdominal pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Greasy Stool Treatments and Relief

To treat greasy stools or steatorrhea, any doctor or gastroenterologist will first want to isolate the cause of the problem. Because there are so many gut and organ conditions that can contribute to a problem with fat absorption, he or she will run a battery of stool tests [2, 5].

For individuals with weak bile or who don't have a gallbladder, which stores and concentrates bile, supplemental bile salts or pancreatic enzymes can help the individual to break down fat better, enabling them to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids [2].

For food allergies and intolerances, simple avoidance of triggers will resolve the problem [10]. For more serious diseases, from pancreatitis cystic fibrosis, medications and lifestyle changes are typically the course of action [11, 12, 13, 14].

FAQs About Greasy Stool

Here are some frequently asked questions about greasy stool.

What foods cause greasy stools?

Greasy stool is generally a sign of intestinal malabsorption, associated with conditions such as celiac disease, chronic pancreatitis, lactase deficiency and so on [2].[4]. These conditions disrupt processes of fat breakdown/absorption. In principle, any food that exacerbates these underlying conditions can cause greasy stool. There is less evidence regarding the association between consumption of whole nuts, natural and artificial fats with greasy stools.

Can coffee cause greasy stools?

There have been no studies linking coffee and greasy stool. Caffeine in the coffee is a potent stimulator of smooth muscles in the intestinal tract and thus might have an impact on bowel function. Sometimes dairy products in the coffee can contribute to greasy stool among patients with lactase deficiency.

Why do I have oily stools when pregnant?

Oily, fatty, or greasy stools can be caused by intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP)[15]. Cholestasis is a term used to describe conditions with diminished bile formation and/or excretion — as bile is essential to fat absorption. ICP can cause fat malabsorption and, hence, oily stool [2]. ICP typically develops in the late second and/or third trimester and rapidly resolves after delivery. This condition also cause pruritus (itching of the skin) and an elevation in serum bile acid concentrations. The etiology for ICP is not completely understood, but likely involves a combination of genetic susceptibility, hormonal factors, and environmental factors.

Can you have greasy stools after gastric bypass surgery?

Yes. Certain gastric bypass surgeries, such as jejunoileal bypass, biliopancreatic diversion, and Roux-en-Y gastric bypass can cause greasy tool. These procedures shorten the length of the functional small intestine to reduce the effectiveness of nutrient absorption, which contribute to greasy stools.

Why does my stools float?

Stools that float are usually fatty or greasy and are most often due to poor absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) or too much gas (flatulence)[2]. Flatulence can be caused by consumption of foods that are hard to digest, such as fiber, or food that your body cannot tolerate. Malabsorption can be caused by many conditions with compromised processes of food breakdown/absorption.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Greasy Stool

  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you had any changes in your weight?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our greasy stool symptom checker to find out more.

Take Quiz

Greasy Stool Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced greasy stool have also experienced:

    • 10% Diarrhea
    • 9% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 5% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced greasy stool were most often matched with:

    • 40% Gallstones
    • 30% Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)
    • 30% Chronic Gallstones
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having greasy stool

Take Quiz

References

  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Bile. The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Updated November 30, 2017. The Encyclopaedia Britannica Link.
  2. Lal SK. Malabsorption. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Published May 11, 2016. MedlinePlus Link.
  3. Lal SK. Stools - Floating. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Published May 11, 2016. MedlinePlus Link.
  4. Ruiz AR. Overview of Malabsorption. Merck Manual Professional Version. Updated February 2018. Merck Manual Professional Version Link.
  5. Struyvenberg MR, Martin CR, Freedman SD. Practical Guide to Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency - Breaking the Myths. BMC Medicine. 2017;15:29. BMC Medicine Link.
  6. 5 Things Your Poop Can Tell You About Your Health. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  7. Pancreatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIDDK Link.
  8. Whipple Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published August 2014. NIDDK Link.
  9. Ruiz AR. Whipple Disease. Merck Manual Professional Version. Updated February 2018. Merck Manual Professional Version Link.
  10. Zopf Y, Hahn EG, Raithel M, Baenkler HW, Silbermann A. The Differential Diagnosis of Food Intolerance. Deutches Arzteblatt International. 2009;106(21):359-370. NCBI Link.
  11. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIDDK Link.
  12. Phillips MM. Inflammatory Bowel Disease. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Published July 9, 2017. MedlinePlus Link.
  13. What is Crohn's Disease? National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published September 2017. NIDDK Link.
  14. Cystic Fibrosis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NHLBI Link.
  15. Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. U.S. National Library of Medicine: Genetics Home Reference. Published October 23, 2018. GHR Link.