Stools normally sink in the toilet. However, a variety of things, mainly diet, can cause a change in your stools. Changes to the structure of your stools may result in floating. Floating stools are usually nothing to be concerned about. Your stools will most likely return to normal without any treatment. Floating stools are not an illness or disease; however, they can be a symptom of some illnesses and diseases.
The two most common causes of floating stools are excess gas and malabsorption (poor absorption) of nutrients.
Certain foods can cause gas in your stools. Foods that commonly cause gas include those that contain large amounts of sugars, lactose, starch, or fiber, such as beans, milk, cabbage, apples, soft drinks, and sugar-free candies.
Malabsorption can occur when your stools pass through your intestines too quickly, such as when you have diarrhea. Malabsorption can also occur when your body does not process and absorb nutrients correctly. If you have severe malabsorption, your floating stools may also have a strong odor and be greasy in appearance. A common cause of malabsorption is gastrointestinal (GI) tract infections. GI tract infections can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. These infections usually go away without any treatment.
Floating stools commonly occur in people who have lactose intolerance when they drink or eat dairy products. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, which is a sugar found in dairy products. Ingesting dairy products when you are lactose intolerant can cause gas in your stools and diarrhea, which can lead to malabsorption.
Some of the diseases that can cause floating stools include:
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the lining of the small intestine when gluten is eaten. An autoimmune disease is one in which your body’s immune system mistakenly produces substances (antibodies) to attack your own tissues. Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat products. Celiac is an inherited disease. Symptoms of the disease can begin in childhood or adulthood. There is no cure for celiac disease. The symptoms go away when gluten is avoided.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited and often fatal disease that causes an excess production of thick and sticky mucus in the lungs and digestive tract. The excess mucus in the pancreas prevents the proper absorption of nutrients, which can cause floating stools. There is no cure for cystic fibrosis. Treatments, including medications, may reduce floating stools, as well as other symptoms of the disease.
Short Bowel Syndrome
Short bowel syndrome is when the intestines do not absorb nutrients properly. This can occur due to intestinal disease or when part of the small intestine is missing from either a genetic defect or surgical removal.
Extremely rare genetic diseases that can cause floating stools include:
- Bassen-Kornzweig syndrome (a genetic disease in which the intestines cannot absorb fat)
- biliary atresia (underdeveloped bile ducts, which make the intestines less able to absorb fats)
- disaccharidase deficiency (a deficiency or absence of enzymes, such as sucrase and isomaltase, which are needed to break down some sugars and starches)
Call your doctor if you have floating stools for more than two weeks. Get immediate medical help if your floating stools are accompanied by blood in your stools, dizziness, fever, or weight loss. These symptoms may be signs of disease or severe malabsorption.
Your doctor will ask questions about how long you have had floating stools, your diet, your medical history, and other symptoms. In rare cases, your doctor may order blood or fecal (stool) tests to try to diagnose the specific cause of your floating stools. Treatment, if needed, depends on the cause of your floating stools. Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial infections. Antidiarrheal medications may be prescribed for diarrhea. Your doctor may recommend dietary changes.
If you have floating stools, but no other symptoms, you may want to try a home treatment. There is a good chance that your floating stools are caused by your diet. Keep a record of the foods that you eat and your bowel movements. Take note when you have floating stools. When you do have floating stools, look to see what foods you recently ate. If you continually keep a food intake and bowel movement record, you may be able to identify which foods cause your floating stools. Once you identify the offending foods, you can avoid them in the future.