What is Steatorrhea?


is a medical condition which is indicated by the presence of fat in stools. Stools may be pale yellow in color, oily and foul smelling. Under normal conditions, less than 5% of ingested fat is present in stools. Stool test would reveal any abnormal results indicating the presence of this condition. Excess fat secretion could also leak from the anal passage.

This condition is primarily caused by the inability of the body to absorb fats present in food. This condition can cause severe malnutrition as the body will be deprived of the fat soluble vitamins (which needs fat to be soluble and be absorbed by the body) like A,D,E and K. Changes in calcium metabolism may affect bones.

Symptoms of Steatorrhea

  • Fatty Stools

    -It is one of the primary symptom indicating this condition. Greasy, oily and smelly stools is a state which could point to serious issues.

  • Pale Stools

    – Patients having this ailment often gets pale colored stools.This is especially true when the condition is triggered by liver problems.

  • Weight Loss

    – It is a major cause of weight loss too. In spite of fatty food intake the fat is not absorbed in the body and results in poor nourishment from malabsorption of vitamins and nutrients.

  • Foul Smelling Heavy Stools

    – The presence of ingested fat gives the stool an odor which is worse than ever. The stools become bulkier and more voluminous.

Causes of Fecal fat Discharge

  • Bile Acid Deficiency

    -Liver damage which results in lesser secretion of bile acids can cause the condition.

  • Cholecystectomy (Surgical removal of Gall Bladder)

    – Often a side effect of the said procedure.

  • Defects of Pancreatitic Enzymes

    – It may be caused by improper functioning of pancreatitic enzymes.

  • Defective Mucosal Muscles

    – Defects in the cells of the mucous membrane (the thin layer of tissue which covers the various internal organs) can cause this condition.

  • Food having indigestible fats

    – Consuming food with indigestible fats and oils like Olestra. Fish oil found in escolar (fish) or salmon can cause it.

  • Drugs

    – Certain medications like orlistat used in weight loss treatment can cause it. The drug works by inhibiting fat digesting enzymes and so the fat in food is not digested and becomes insoluble in nature. It is then discharged with stools.

  • Alcohol Abuse

    -Prolonged alcohol consumption leads to impairment of the tissues of the liver and pancreas. Swollen pancreas under this condition could lead to fat malabsorpttion.

What are the Diseases Associated with Fat Malabsorption ?

  • Cystic Fibrosis

    – Pancreatitic insufficiency or the improper secretion of the pancreatitic enzymes which aid digestion could lead to this condition. The fats are not digested properly and are excreted with the fecal matter from the body. This disease is common in children.

  • Celiac Disease

    – It is a condition characterized by the inability of the body to break down gluten (a protein found in whole wheat and cereals) and affects digestion. Malabsorption of fats and high percentage of fats in stools is a condition associated with this disease.

  • Cancerous Pancreas and Liver

    -In this condition, the cancerous tissue of the liver and pancreas cannot produce enough bile acid or pancreatitic enzymes which impairs digestion of fats and discharges them as insoluble fats from the body.

  • Crohnai??i??s disease

    -This disease is a classic example of the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It affects mainly the ileum,that is,the lower part of the small intestine and can cause inefficient absorption of fats.

  • Whippleai??i??s disease

    -It is caused by certain type of intestinal bacterial infection which leads to severe malabsorption disease. Malabsorption of fats too is a part of this disease.

Diagnosis of the Malabsorption of Fats

This condition is very often the symptom of other major diseases in the body.So regular blood work, endoscopy of the digestive tract, d-xylose absorption test, urine and stool exams are conducted to find the disease causing it.

However, a sudan III test is used to confirm abnormal levels of fat in feces. If 100 gms of fat ingested results in an excretion of 7 gms of fat, then it is considered abnormal.

Treatment of Steatorrhea

  • Properly Diagnosing the disease causing it and treating it.
  • Pancreatitic enzyme supplements restore the digestive balance in the intestine and cure this condition.
  • Having a diet of fat rich food is sometimes advised.
  • In case it is caused from Celiac disease, a diet without gluten should be tried.
  • If the condition is alcohol induced then keeping away from alcohol is absolutely essential.

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