Stools normally sink in the toilet. But your diet and other factors can cause your stools to change in structure. This may result in floating. Floating stools are usually nothing to be concerned about. They’re not always a symptom of an illness or disease. Your stools will most likely return to normal without any treatment.
Common causes of floating stools
The two most common causes of floating stools are excess gas and malabsorption, or poor absorption, of nutrients.
Certain foods can cause gas in your stools. Foods that commonly cause gas contain large amounts of sugar, lactose, starch, or fiber, such as:
- soft drinks
- sugar-free candies
Malabsorption can occur when your stools pass through your intestines too quickly, such as when you have diarrhea. It 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 appear greasy.
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. This can lead to malabsorption.
Diseases that can cause floating stools
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. Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat products. Currently, 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 occurs when the intestines do not absorb nutrients properly. This syndrome can be caused by an intestinal disease. It can also be caused when part of the small intestine is missing from either a genetic defect or surgical removal.
Rare genetic diseases
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 certain enzymes, which are needed to break down some sugars and starches
When to see a doctor
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 severe disease or malabsorption.
Diagnosis and medical treatment
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 stool tests to try to diagnose the specific cause of your floating stools.
Treatment, if needed, depends on the cause of your floating stools. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections, or antidiarrheal medications for diarrhea. They may also recommend dietary changes.
Preventing floating stools
If you have floating stools, but no other symptoms, you may want to try a home treatment. There’s a good chance that your floating stools are caused by your diet. Try keeping a record of the foods you eat and your bowel movements. Take note when you have floating stools. When you notice them, check what foods you ate recently. This can help you identify which foods are causing your floating stools. Once you identify the foods, you can avoid them in the future.