What causes oily stools and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Oily stools, also known as steatorrhea, can be a cause for concern and discomfort. They occur when there is an excessive amount of fat in the stool, making it appear greasy and oily. This condition can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition or a result of certain dietary choices. Understanding the causes of oily stools and knowing how to treat them can help alleviate this uncomfortable symptom.

Causes of Oily Stools

Oily stools can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Pancreatic Insufficiency: One of the most common causes of oily stools is pancreatic insufficiency. The pancreas produces enzymes that aid in the digestion and absorption of fats. When the pancreas does not produce enough of these enzymes, fats are not properly broken down, leading to oily stools.
  • Gallbladder Issues: The gallbladder plays a crucial role in the digestion of fats. If there are problems with the gallbladder, such as gallstones or inflammation, it can disrupt the normal digestion process and result in oily stools.
  • Malabsorption Disorders: Certain medical conditions, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), can cause malabsorption of fats. When the body is unable to absorb fats properly, they pass through the digestive system and appear in the stool.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as orlistat (a weight loss medication) and certain antibiotics, can cause oily stools as a side effect. These medications interfere with the normal digestion and absorption of fats.
  • Dietary Choices: Consuming a diet high in fat can also lead to oily stools. When the body receives an excessive amount of fat, it may not be able to digest and absorb it all, resulting in oily stools.

Symptoms of Oily Stools

In addition to the appearance of oily stools, there are other symptoms that may accompany this condition:

  • Diarrhea: Oily stools are often associated with diarrhea, as the excess fat in the stool can cause loose and frequent bowel movements.
  • Abdominal Pain: Some individuals with oily stools may experience abdominal pain or discomfort, especially if the underlying cause is a medical condition like pancreatitis or gallbladder issues.
  • Weight Loss: If oily stools are accompanied by unexplained weight loss, it may indicate a more serious underlying condition that requires medical attention.

Treatment for Oily Stools

The treatment for oily stools depends on the underlying cause. Here are some approaches that may be recommended:

Medical Treatment

If the cause of oily stools is a medical condition, such as pancreatic insufficiency or malabsorption disorders, medical treatment may be necessary. This can include enzyme replacement therapy to aid in fat digestion or medications to manage the underlying condition.

Dietary Changes

Modifying your diet can help manage oily stools. Consider the following dietary changes:

  • Reduce Fat Intake: Limiting your consumption of high-fat foods can help reduce the amount of fat in your stool. Opt for lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead.
  • Increase Fiber Intake: Consuming an adequate amount of fiber can help regulate bowel movements and improve digestion. Include foods like legumes, whole grains, and fruits in your diet.
  • Avoid Trigger Foods: Some individuals may have specific trigger foods that worsen oily stools. Keep a food diary to identify any patterns and avoid those foods.

Managing Underlying Conditions

If oily stools are a result of an underlying medical condition, it is important to manage and treat that condition. This may involve working closely with a healthcare professional to develop a treatment plan that addresses the specific condition.

Preventing Oily Stools

While it may not always be possible to prevent oily stools, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of experiencing this symptom:

  • Follow a Balanced Diet: Eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients can help support proper digestion and minimize the risk of oily stools.
  • Avoid Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol can irritate the digestive system and disrupt normal digestion. Limit your alcohol intake to reduce the risk of oily stools.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking an adequate amount of water can help maintain regular bowel movements and prevent constipation or diarrhea, which can contribute to oily stools.

Home Remedies for Oily Stools

In addition to medical treatment and dietary changes, there are some home remedies that may help alleviate oily stools:

  • Probiotics: Taking probiotic supplements or consuming probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, can help promote a healthy gut and improve digestion.
  • Herbal Remedies: Some herbs, such as ginger and peppermint, have been traditionally used to aid digestion. Consult with a healthcare professional before trying any herbal remedies.
  • Stress Management: Stress can affect digestion. Engaging in stress-reducing activities, such as yoga or meditation, may help improve overall digestion and reduce the risk of oily stools.

In conclusion, oily stools can be caused by various factors, including pancreatic insufficiency, gallbladder issues, malabsorption disorders, medications, and dietary choices. It is important to identify the underlying cause and seek appropriate treatment. Making dietary changes, managing underlying conditions, and following preventive measures can help alleviate and prevent oily stools. If you are experiencing persistent oily stools or other concerning symptoms, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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