Floating Poop: What You Need To Know

An occasional floating stool might not be a big deal. But when you've got floaters on the regular, it's time to see your healthcare provider.

As embarrassing as it might be to admit, everyone takes a peek in the toilet after pooping. And you should be. It's important to know what's coming out of your body.

Hopefully, most of the time, your poop looks pretty standard: solid, dark brown, kind of hangs out near the bottom of the toilet bowl. But some days, depending on how you're feeling (including your stress level) or what you ate, it might look a little different—maybe a little runnier or harder than usual, for example.

Occasional changes in the appearance of your stool aren't likely to set off alarm bells and can be normal, but what about a floating log in the bowl—does that warrant a second look? Health spoke to a gastroenterologist to get to the bottom of this floating poop mystery—including when to relax and when to see your healthcare provider.

What Causes Floating Poop?

Poop can float for a few reasons—the most benign being that it simply has extra gas in it.

That's because sometimes the foods that make us fart (think beans, cauliflower, sugar-free candies...) can cause such a buildup of gas that some of it gets lodged in our poop, Rabia De Latour, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health, told Health. When that happens, your poop floats because air is less dense than water. This is pretty normal, and for most people only happens every once in a while (of course, how often this happens for you depends on how often you're eating foods that make you gassy).

Another reason for floating poop, however, is a bit more worrisome. "Usually when poop floats, it suggests that there's a very high fat content," said Dr. De Latour. Think of it like a separated salad dressing—the oil (fat) floats to the top.

But the solution isn't as simple as cutting a few cheeseburgers or other fatty foods out of your diet. Just because floating poop is caused by excess fat in your stool doesn't mean you're eating too much fat. "No matter what you eat, unless it's something that's digestiblelike certain fibers which are good for you, it shouldn't really impact what's ultimately manifested in your stool," said Dr. De Latour.

Instead, floating poop and the excess fat that causes it are an indicator of several different health problems—all of which have the same symptom in common: malabsorption. "You're basically not absorbing nutrients somewhere in your body," said Dr. De Latour. That means something in your digestive system is out of whack, making you unable to digest your food properly.

Are Floating Poop—and Malabsorption—Ever Dangerous?

Dr. De Latour said that malabsorption—and floating poop—are typically caused by three main conditions: Celiac disease, lactose intolerance, or pancreatitis.

All three health conditions mess with your digestion. Per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, people who have celiac disease, for example, struggle to digest gluten (a group of proteins that exist in the starch of certain grains, like wheat, barley, and rye), while people who are lactose intolerant have trouble digesting lactose (a sugar found in milk).

The pancreas is a large gland behind the stomach that secretes digestive juices, as well as insulin, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Pancreatitis happens when something causes the digestive juices in the pancreas to start digesting the pancreas itself, harming the gland. This, in turn, affects digestion.

Each of these conditions will likely lead to more fat in a person's poop, said Dr. De Latour. But that's not the only symptom that will accompany these conditions. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, with celiac disease or lactose intolerance, you may have to rush to the bathroom after eating gluten or lactose. Additionally, you may feel bloated, have frequent diarrhea, or feel nauseous. Pancreatitis is typically accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and unexpected weight loss.

If your daily glance into the toilet shows floating poop a few times a week for more than a month, it's time to make an appointment with your healthcare provider, who will likely test for any underlying causes, as well as vitamins or nutrients you may be deficient in since floating poop is a sign of malabsorption, said Dr. De Latour.

But for those who only see a floater every now and then, there's a simpler answer: Cut down on the foods that make you gassier than usual.

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