Symptoms Of Steatorrhea: Causes And Dietary Treatment

A person suffering from steatorrhea typically pass loose, pale, bulky, greasy, and foul smelling stools that are difficult to flush from the toilet pan. Steatorrhea is a medical term for presence of excess undigested fat in the stool. The condition can be temporary or permanent. This classical characteristic of stool may become less prominent and sometime remain absent if the patient reduces the consumption of dietary fat.

Temporary steatorrhea results when the intestine is unable to absorb the fat either due to change in the diet or intestinal infection. Steatorrhea of long duration occurs when the biliary tract is not working properly or there is malfunction of the pancreas or intestine.

Patient with steatorrhea usually passes more that 500gm of stool in a day as compared to those suffering from diarrhea; they usually pass less than 250gm of stool in a day.

Symptoms Of Steatorrhea

Steatorrhea itself is a symptom of the underlying disease. There are several disease and conditions that can cause steatorrhea. Many other symptoms can accompany steatorrhea together with the other symptoms of that particular disease.

Abdominal symptoms that may accompany along with steatorhea are:

  • Colicky abdominal pain.
  • Foul smelling stool.
  • Stool too sticky and difficult to flush from toilet pan.
  • Presence of diarrhea.
  • Distension of abdomen.
  • Flatulence and rumbling noise produced by gases in the intestine.
  • Pale and bulky stool.
  • Nausea.

Steatorrhea accompanying with other symptoms of other parts of the body:

  • Patient with severe steatorrhea may develop excess of excretion of Oxalate through urine and may develop renal stone.
  • Color of urine is dark yellow.
  • Itching all over the body.
  • Weight loss despite good appetite.
  • Presence of jaundice.
  • Lethargy.
  • General irritability
  • Anemia.
  • Breathlessness.

What Are The Causes Of Steatorrhea?

The main reason of stetorrrhea is due to impaired supply of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and intestine or bile salts as in case of liver disease, especially biliary tract obstruction.

Intestinal related steatorrhea:

  • Infection due to bacteria, virus or parasites in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Celiac disease ( gluten allergy).
  • Tropical sprue.
  • Inflammation of the intestine due to giardiasis or tuberculosis.
  • Food allergy.
  • Inadequate mixing of enzyme after gastrectomy or other intestinal operation.

Liver and biliary tract causes of steatorrhea: bile is needed for digestion of fat and absorption. Stetorrhea can result if there is less supply of bile or absence of bile.

  • Absence of bile duct since birth.
  • Stricture in the Bile duct.
  • Gallstone that blocks the flow of bile.
  • Cancer of liver or gallbladder.

Pancreatic causes of steatorhea: just like bile, pancreas manufacture an enzyme known as pancreatic enzyme that is necessary for digestion and absorption of fats. In absence of pancreatic enzyme, fat passes unabsorbed in the stool. Following are the pancreatic factors that can lead to steatorrhea.

  • Deficiency of pancreatic enzyme since birth.
  • Cystic fibrosis.
  • Chronic pancreatitis.
  • Cancer of pancreas.
  • Pancreatic resection (Removal of pancreas).
  • Alcohol related pancreatitis.

Dietary Treatment For Steatorrhea

  • Depending on diagnosis it is possible to institute specific dietary treatment such as elimination of gluten or limiting the intake of fat in the diet.
  • If the underlying cause is due to chronic alcohol condition, the patient suffering from steatorrhea should drastically reduce intake of alcohol.
  • Pancreatic enzyme supplementation may be given in case of pancreatic disease.
  • Patient suffering from Sprue may respond to folic acid therapy. Foods rich in folic acid are dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, kale, Broccoli, all types of fruits, beans and legumes etc.