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Floating Stools: Is it Normal Stool?

Floating stools are generally associated with some degree of difficulty digesting or absorbing nutrients (sugars, fats, proteins, or vitamins) from food or excessive gas.  Stools that float occur in a variety of situations although most are diet-related or caused by diarrhea due to a gastrointestinal infection.

Certain foods or a change in overall diet can increase the amount of gas in the intestines. Similarly, acute stomach (gastrointestinal) infections can result in increased gas in the intestines, due to rapid movement of food through the digestive tract.  One incorrect theory is that floating stool is caused by an increase in the fat content of the stool. In fact, it is increased gas in stool which makes it less dense and allows it to float. If nutrients aren’t absorbed, the bacteria in the colon produce an increased amount of gas in the stool. In fact, more than 2 weeks of diarrhea with floating stools is often seen in people suffering from malabsorption.

In summary, dietary changes, diarrhea, and malabsorption can cause floating stools. Most causes are not serious and harmless. Floating stools usually go away by themselves when infection ends or normal bacteria in the digestive tract adjust to dietary changes.

Floating stools alone do not indicate an illness or problem, and does not require home care. If a change in diet has caused problems, try to locate and eliminate the offending food.

Contact your doctor if floating stools continue for more than a few weeks. If you notice blood, fever, or dizziness along with floating stool, consult a doctor immediately.

The following diseases may also cause floating stools:

  • Abetalipoproteinemia
  • Biliary atresia
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Disaccharides deficiency (insufficient amounts of the sugar-digesting enzymes lactase, sucrase, or isomaltase)
  • Gluten-induced enteropathy (sprue or celiac disease)
  • Idiopathic steatorrhea (fatty stools with no known cause)
  • Short bowel syndrome