Steatorrhea is a common gastrointestinal condition that involves excess fat content in stools. Solid wastes in the body are eliminated in the form of stools or faecal matter, which is generally composed of water, fat, fibre, protein, salts, bacteria and other cell and tissue debris, with a moderate proportion of fatty substances in normal, healthy individuals. However, in situations of steatorrhea, surplus fat is present in the faecal matter that is expelled from the body, characterised by very bulky, unpleasant smelling, light yellow coloured stool. This is coated with a greasy layer and at times, exhibits as round globules of oil while using the toilet.
Causes Of Steatorrhea:
Various factors instigate steatorrhea, such as:
- Consuming meals with high fat, fibre, oxalate content, like whole nuts, fatty fish, frequent intake of alcohol, whole wheat products, coconut/palm oil
- Pancreatic disorders like exocrine pancreas insufficiency, autoimmune pancreatitis
- Malabsorption disorders wherein nutrients are not assimilated properly by the small intestine
- Celiac disease, characterised by gluten sensitivity, gluten being a protein in wheat
- Kidney failure
- Liver damage
- Lymphoma and other conditions that hamper lymph nodes
- Congestive heart failure
- Crohn’s disease
The distinguishing indications of steatorrhea comprise:
- Stool that is extremely thick and massive, with a wobbly consistency
- Spherical fat molecules and oil layers in stool
- Discharge of foam and mucous along with stool
- Light-coloured stool unlike normal brown, with the faecal matter being yellow, orange or green
- Pain in the abdomen alongside stomach cramps, gas, bloating
- Heartburn and difficulty in digesting meals
- Body pain in the joints and muscles near the gastrointestinal tract
In certain cases, steatorrhea occurs with severe intensity and leads to grave health complications, including:
- Anaemia and fatigue
- High fever
- Sudden weight loss
- Decrease in growth rate in children
- Ailments in the eyes impeding vision
- Skin disorders
- Maladies affecting the brain and nerve response
The doctor questions the patient about the nature of symptoms, as well as their medical history, to gauge if any underlying ailment is triggering steatorrhea. Then, a faecal fat test is conducted, which analyses the amount of fat present in the stool sample of the patient.
Steatorrhea is established when excreting more than 7 grams of fat in 24 hours, upon consuming 100 grams of fat on a daily basis.
Depending upon the severity and frequency of fatty stools, as well as the health complications arising from the disorder, the healthcare provider advises a pertinent course of treatment.
In mild to moderate cases of steatorrhea, simple dietary modifications and home remedies help in alleviating symptoms of stomach aches and discomfort in the gut. These consist of drinking sufficient water to keep the body hydrated, avoiding drinking alcohol and smoking, steering clear of foods high in fibre, fat, oxalate. Furthermore, nutrition supplements of vitamins A, D, E, K – fat-soluble vitamins, as well as over-the-counter antacids aid in uplifting metabolism, soothing heartburn and facilitating smooth digestion and absorption of nutrients in food.
When severe situations of steatorrhea develop, then proper medical care and hospital treatment are required, to rectify the condition in the patient. Apart from administering intravenous fluids to replenish lost electrolytes and cease dehydration, the physician also prescribes medications to stop diarrhoea and suppress the production of acids in the digestive tract. This ensures passage of normal stools and healthy digestion, bowel movements in the patient.