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Floating bowel movements: Stools – floating Information | Mount Sinai

Stools – floating Information | Mount Sinai

Floating stools

Stools that float are most often due to poor absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) or too much gas (flatulence).

Food passes from the stomach into the small intestine. In the small intestine all nutrient absorption occurs. Whatever has not been absorbed by the small intestine passes into the colon. In the colon most of the water is absorbed from the food residue. The residue is then eliminated from the body as feces.


Most causes of floating stools are harmless. In most cases, floating stools will go away without treatment.

Floating stools alone are not a sign of an illness or other health problem.


Many things can cause floating stools. Most of the time, floating stools are due to what you eat. A change in your diet may cause an increase in gas. Increased gas in the stool allows it to float.

Floating stools may also happen if you have a gastrointestinal infection.

Floating, greasy stools that are foul smelling may be due to severe malabsorption, particularly if you are losing weight. Malabsorption means your body is not properly absorbing nutrients.

Most floating stools are not caused by an increase in the fat content of the stool. However, in some conditions, such as long-term (chronic) pancreatitis, the fat content is increased.

Home Care

If a change in diet has caused floating stools or other health problems, try to find which food is to blame. Avoiding this food may be helpful.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Tell your health care provider if you have changes in your stools or bowel movements. Contact your provider right away if you have bloody stools with weight loss, dizziness, and fever.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as:

  • When did you first notice the floating stools?
  • Does it happen all the time or from time to time?
  • What is your usual diet?
  • Does a change in your diet change your stools?
  • Do you have other symptoms?
  • Are the stools foul smelling?
  • Are the stools an abnormal color (such as pale or clay-colored stools)?

A stool sample may be needed. Blood tests may be done. In most cases, however, these tests will not be needed.

Treatment depends on the specific diagnosis.

Höegenauer C, Hammer HF. Maldigestion and malabsorption. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 104.

Schiller LR, Sellin JH. Diarrhea. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 16.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 131.

Last reviewed on: 5/4/2022

Reviewed by: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

Why Do Stools Float Sometimes?

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

  • What Are Floating Stools?
  • Why Would Stools Float?
  • When To See a Doctor
  • Treatment
  • Prevention

Stools, or poop, usually sink to the bottom of the toilet, but sometimes, they can float. If your poop never sinks to the bottom of the toilet bowl, you may have too much gas in your intestines.

Normally, floating stools aren’t a cause for concern. Read on to learn more about why stools float, what floating stools say about your health, and more.

When stools float, it means the poop stays on the surface of the toilet water instead of sinking. Normally, poop sinks to the bottom of the toilet bowl.

Floating poop doesn’t mean you’re sick, but it can be a symptom of various conditions.

There are several reasons why poop floats and never seems to sink.

Too much gas. You may have too much gas in you due to your diet, which can make your stools float. 

Some people think that floating poop is caused by fat, but it’s usually caused by gas. Research has indicated that once floating stools were degassed, they weighed the same as sinking poop. This indicates that gas was responsible for making floating stools float, rather than fat inside the poop.

Gas in your digestive system is usually caused when you swallow air or eat certain types of foods that break down into gas. 

If you eat a high-fiber diet with a lot of vegetables and fruits, you may get floating stools because digesting high-fiber foods releases more air during digestion. This leads to air or gas being trapped in the stool, making it float in the toilet bowl.

Medical conditions. If your poop floats, there’s a slight chance you have steatorrhea, which means you have too much fat in your poop. Steatorrhea indicates you can’t absorb fat properly, and it can be a symptom of the following conditions:

  • Celiac disease
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) due to cystic fibrosis and chronic pancreatitis
  • Diseases affecting small intestines such as tropical sprue, Whipple disease, and lymphoma
  • Bile acid deficiency

You may also have the following conditions if you have floating poop:

  • Gastrointestinal infection
  • Malabsorption, which means you’re not absorbing nutrients as well as you should

Floating stools don’t necessarily mean you have an underlying health condition. To determine if a health condition is causing this, you should be on the lookout for other indicators. 

If your floating stools are smelly, sticky, or bloody, for example, you should see a doctor. Your doctor will give you a proper diagnosis and walk you through the process of understanding your condition if you have one. Here’s a closer look at what might cause these symptoms.

Smelly and sticky stools. Smelly and sticky stools are typically a symptom of nutrient malabsorption. This means your body isn’t able to completely absorb and digest nutrients from your gastrointestinal tract due to damage to the small intestine, not having enough pancreatic enzymes, liver disease, HIV/AIDs, or other conditions.

If your floating stools are smelly and appear sticky, you should contact your doctor.

Blood in your stool. If your floating poop is accompanied by blood, it could be caused by:

  • Bleeding in your anus or rectum
  • Cancer of your digestive system
  • Blood vessel abnormalities
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis
  • Ulcers in the stomach or small intestine
  • Polyps
  • Diverticulitis

If you find blood in your stools, you should see a doctor. If you’re experiencing weight loss, dizziness, or fever in addition to finding blood in your stools, you should talk to your doctor immediately. You should also get emergency medical help if there is a lot of blood in your poop, or if it is maroon or black and tarry.

Your doctor will be able to determine what is the exact cause of bloody poop through imaging tests and physical exams.

When you visit your doctor, they will likely ask you several questions about your medical history and your current health to determine why you have floating stools. They will also ask you about your diet and how long you’ve been having this issue so they can make any needed diet and medication recommendations.

Unless there is a medical condition causing you to have floating poops, there is no need to do anything to treat or prevent them.

Monitor your pooping habits. Always be aware of any changes to your stool and bowel movements. If you’re suddenly pooping more or less, or your poop looks very different, you should report these changes to your doctor. Your doctor will find it easier to diagnose any health conditions you may have if you keep an organized record about your pooping habits.

Changing your diet. Sometimes, preventing floating poop can be as easy as changing your diet, since floating poop can be caused by eating foods that cause you to have more gas.

You should avoid the following foods if you have a problem with too much gas:

  • Hard candy
  • Fizzy or carbonated drinks
  • Gum

Keep a food diary so you can keep track of what you eat and narrow down what foods are giving you gas. You should bring this diary to your doctor so you can talk to them about how you can change your diet.

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Feces buoyancy linked to intestinal microbiota

American researchers figured out why some feces sink in water while others float on the surface. According to experiments on mice, the composition of the intestinal microbiota is solely responsible for this. The report on the work was published in the journal Scientific Reports .

Feces 10-15 percent of people float on the surface of the water, and this is not associated with any pathological condition. Among people with functional bowel disorders, this proportion rises to about one in four. Historically, it was believed that the buoyancy of feces is due to the high content of fat in it, but in 19In 1972, Michael Levitt, a gastroenterologist from the University of Minnesota, and his student William Duane, in experiments with the stool of 39 people (including six patients with steatorrhea), showed that even fatty feces sink when gas is removed. The researchers did not specify the origin of the gas component, and this question, which has the potential for clinical application, has remained open until now.

To understand it, staff at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, under the direction of Nagarajan Kannan, used conventional C57BL/6 (B6) and gnotobiotic (born and reared in aseptic conditions that do not have a microbiome) mice. Some of the latter have been colonized with microbiota in their intestines by a single intragastric injection of the drug, either in the faeces of normal mice or one of two healthy women, or by allowing contact with environmental bacteria. Fecal sterility of germ-free mice and successful colonization of the intestines of the rest were confirmed by polymerase chain reaction, scanning electron microscopy, and measurement of bacterial DNA concentration (a measure of microbiota density).

Flow cytometry showed that the number of undigested particles of food biomass is inversely related to the density of the intestinal microbiota. In thermogravimetry, the feces of germ-free mice differed from the rest of the samples in at least three temperature ranges; pycnometry revealed its significant superiority in relative density. The shape, size and color of the stool in all groups of animals did not differ.

To assess the buoyancy of faeces, the researchers used a simple LIFT test they had previously developed – levô in fimo (literally translated from Latin as “raising in dung”) test. It consists in placing stool fragments in water and a Trump fixer solution (10 percent formaldehyde and one percent glutaraldehyde) in phosphate buffer (TFS), followed by recording their position (at the bottom or surface) after a minute, hour and day. It turned out that all samples from germ-free mice sink in water and TFS in less than a minute, while about half of the bacteria-colonized samples remain on the surface of the water and all of them continue to swim in TFS after a day.

Also, the authors of the work performed simultaneously LIFT and microbiota density determination in gnotobiotic mice before intragastric colonization (all faeces were drowned, bacterial DNA was practically not determined) and after it weekly for 12 weeks. By the third week, with all methods of microbiota formation (transplantation from mice and humans, from a non-sterile environment), the DNA concentration in the whole stool began to stabilize at a level of more than 10 thousand nanograms per milligram, from that time all biosamples floated.

Metagenomic analysis of the intestinal microbiota of conventional, artificially colonized gnotobiotic and their donor mice revealed 13 dominant species of gasogenic bacteria from 11 genera, and their composition in different animals was extremely heterogeneous. The most common was methane-producing Bacteroides ovatus , associated, as previously shown, with an increased risk of flatulence in humans.

Thus, the buoyancy of feces depends solely on the gases produced by the microbiota; Swallowed air and the chemical composition of the dense matter of the stool do not play a role in this, Kannan concluded.

In 2019, Tufts University researchers reported that fecal transplants from physically fit older adults significantly increased the grip strength of mice. At the same time, a Belgian-Dutch scientific group showed that the intestinal microbiota affects the quality of life and the risk of developing depression. In turn, the species composition of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract depends on at least 69 main factors, including such non-obvious ones as the opinion of one’s own body weight and plans to reduce it, preferences for chocolate varieties and taking antidepressants – the Dutch, Belgian, Russian and British scientists.

You can read about the various uses of excrement in wildlife in the blog “It’s the norm: about the instrumental use of feces.” Issues related to fecal transplantation are analyzed in detail by Doctor of Biological Sciences, Professor Mikhail Gelfand.

On mice

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Whale feces will save humanity from global warming

The science



Iron-rich whale feces stimulate the growth of phytoplankton (iron is the most important fertilizing component of phytoplankton), which then serve as so-called “carbon traps”, removing up to 400,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually.

Sperm whale waste is not something to admire – a diarrhea-like substance with several squid bills floating around – but a new study has shown that it removes carbon from the atmosphere, helping to offset the greenhouse gases associated with global warming.

Southern Ocean sperm whales produce 220,462 tons of carbon dioxide by exhaling carbon dioxide at the surface of the water, and their excretions stimulate the reduction of carbon dioxide by 440,925 tons, according to a study published in “Proceedings of the Royal Society B” (“Proceedings of the Royal Society B”). in biology”).

These giants of the ocean and some other marine mammals may be some of the most environmentally friendly animals on our planet.

“If the sperm whales of the Southern Ocean were at their historical levels, i.e. at the population size they were before active whaling, we would have an additional 2,204,623 tons of carbon removed from our atmosphere each year” , lead study author Trisha Lavery told e-edition Discovery News.

Lavery, a marine biologist at Flinders University in South Australia, and her colleagues explained how the cleanup process works.

Sperm whales feed on squid and fish, their favorite prey, in the depths of the ocean. Then the whales return to the surface of the water in order to simply relieve themselves, that is, to relieve themselves.

“They do this because by diving deep, they block their ‘non-critical’ biological functions,” Lavery said. “So they only defecate when they come to the surface to rest.”

Their waste products come out in the form of a giant liquid plume (with the exception of undigested squid beaks). These whale feces provide nutrients that function as natural fertilizer. And aquatic plants are waiting for these nutrients and assimilate them as they “receive”.

Plants – phytoplankton – absorb ocean carbon as it accumulates. During the life and death cycles of these plants, the carbon is then “trapped” for many centuries.

New estimates published by scientists indicate that there are currently 12,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean. According to scientists, the South Ocean sperm whales contribute to the light zone (there are also twilight and night zones. – D.A. ) of the ocean 40 tons of iron annually.



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