Is poop supposed to sink: Causes, is it normal, and when to see a doctor
Causes, is it normal, and when to see a doctor
Stool is denser than water and usually sinks, but it can float if it contains too much fiber, fat, or gas. This could stem from an infection, irritable bowel syndrome, and other health conditions.
If an individual’s stool floats often, it may be the result of their diet or a medical condition.
This article will provide information about some of the causes of floating stool. It will also discuss when a person’s stool indicates the need to seek guidance from a doctor.
Stool’s ability to float is usually related to air. A high fiber diet and gas can cause stool to float.
However, if a person’s stool never sinks, it may be an indication of an underlying health condition, such as:
- a gastrointestinal (GI) infection
Excess fat in stool can also lead to floating stool. This can happen if a person consumes a large quantity of fat in their diet or if they have a condition that affects fat absorption, such as Crohn’s disease.
A diet high in fiber leads to increased bacterial fermentation during digestion. This produces more air, which can get trapped in stool, causing it to float.
Many high fiber foods, such as beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower, can cause gas. A 2020 study found that switching from a low fiber diet to a diet rich in fiber increased bloating, especially when the new diet was also rich in protein.
Some people also develop gas when they change their diet. If stool floats after an individual has eaten a new food or has switched to a new diet, gas could be the culprit.
Research from 2016 notes that 95% of adults and children in the United States do not consume enough fiber. Recommendations for fiber intake vary by age and sex.
Females aged 19–50 years should consume at least 25 grams (g) of fiber per day, while males in the same age group need at least 38 g of fiber daily.
GI infections can cause floating stool.
Some infections may cause gas, which can become trapped in the stool, lowering its density. In other cases, certain infections impair the body’s ability to absorb food, causing malabsorption. This can lead to fatty stools that float.
One example includes giardiasis. This is a parasitic infection that results in greasy stools that float.
What other GI infections can cause floating stool?
Any GI infection can cause your stool to float, because the gas that the virus, bacterium, or parasite creates causes the stool to float. Other GI infection examples include those caused by Escherichia coli and Salmonella.
Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-CAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational, and people should not consider it to be medical advice.
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Some GI disorders can cause stool to float.
The authors of a 2015 study found that 26% of people with functional bowel disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia, had floating stools.
Additionally, 3% of those with functional GI disorders, which are a group of disorders that affect movement in the digestive tract, had floating stools.
For some individuals, floating stool may be the first warning sign of a GI or bowel problem. When floating stool occurs alongside other symptoms, such as pain, diarrhea, bloating, or constipation, it may signal an underlying GI issue.
According to research from 2021, floating stools are a symptom of a malabsorption syndrome. The stool may also be greasy and large and smell foul.
Examples of malabsorption syndromes that can lead to floating stool are fat malabsorption and carbohydrate malabsorption.
Fat malabsorption is one of the most common syndromes and can lead to steatorrhea. This is an increase of fat in stool, causing it to float. Although floating stool may be a sign of steatorrhea, a 2017 article observes that stool sticking to the toilet bowl is a more specific sign.
Steatorrhea can also occur due to a variety of malabsorption conditions, including small intestine disorders and liver and biliary disease.
Disorders that affect the small intestine can cause steatorrhea. People who have had a portion of their small intestine surgically removed, such as to treat Crohn’s disease, may also experience steatorrhea.
The liver produces bile, which helps the body digest food. When little or no bile reaches the intestines, it may result in a fatty stool. A person may also lose weight or develop diarrhea. Liver disease, blocked bile ducts, and gallstones may cause a fatty stool.
Carbohydrate malabsorption also causes stool to float. It occurs when a person’s body is unable to absorb starch, lactose, and sucrose. Carbohydrates that the body does not absorb ferment in the colon, leading to acidic stool, bloating, and flatulence. This gas can become trapped in the stool, causing it to float.
One important cause of carbohydrate malabsorption is lactose intolerance, which is the inability to metabolize lactose properly. This occurs when an individual’s digestive system produces too little of an enzyme known as lactase. It is also the most common cause of malabsorption.
People with lactose intolerance may experience bloating and diarrhea when they consume milk, cheese, or other dairy products.
As a 2017 article explains, some conditions affecting the pancreas can lead to a fatty stool due to fat malabsorption. Malabsorption can occur when the pancreatic enzymes or bile does not travel in sufficient quantities to the small intestine.
The result is a fatty stool that may float or be difficult to flush. The stool may also be white or very pale. Additionally, a person may notice that they have very dark urine.
Floating stool can also occur as a result of pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis.
Pancreatic cancer causes stool that is greasy and light in color. A person may also experience itchy skin, poor appetite, and weight loss, among other symptoms.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. It can lead to pain in the upper abdomen that may also spread to the back. Additionally, a person may experience:
- a fast heartbeat
- a swollen abdomen
It is not possible to diagnose conditions affecting the pancreas based on a person’s symptoms alone. Pancreatic disorders are serious, so it is essential to get help and treatment as soon as possible.
Floating stools are not usually a cause for concern, as they can result from gas being trapped in the stool and from a high fiber diet. However, if the symptom persists, a person may wish to contact a doctor.
It is advisable to seek guidance from a healthcare professional if:
- a floating stool also looks very fatty or greasy, and the symptom persists
- a person experiences chronic constipation or diarrhea
- the stool is very light or pale
- a person begins losing weight unintentionally
- a person with an underlying medical condition develops changes in their bowel habits
- a person has very dark urine
If an individual suspects that they have pancreatitis, they should seek medical attention as soon as possible, especially if the following symptoms occur:
- pain that begins in the upper abdomen that:
- begins slowly or suddenly
- spreads to the back
- is mild or severe
- lasts for several days
- a swollen abdomen
- a fast heartbeat
Stool is the body’s way of eliminating waste, and it typically reflects a person’s diet. Floating stool, changes in stool color, and other temporary changes in bowel habits are usually not a sign of a serious medical condition.
However, a person should contact a doctor if symptoms persist or get worse. A doctor can do a variety of tests to reach a diagnosis.
Read this article in Spanish.
11 Icky but Interesting Facts About Poop
Let’s talk about poop. Sure, it’s not exactly dinner-party material, but it’s important to learn all you can about bowel movements — what’s weird, what’s normal, what’s healthy, what’s not.
That’s because your poop (stool) is an important clue to your overall digestion and health.
Your poop can reveal serious signs of infections, digestive problems, and even early signs of cancer, according to Anish Sheth, MD, a gastroenterologist at Penn Medicine Princeton Health in Plainsboro, New Jersey, and the coauthor of the books What’s Your Poo Telling You? and What’s My Pee Telling Me?
Take a look at these facts about poop, and then pay attention to how often you go, how long it takes, and what the result looks and, yes, smells like. Simply put: Know your poop.
1. What Is Poop Made Of?
Water makes up about 75 percent of your stool, research has shown. The rest is an often-stinky combination of fiber, dead and live bacteria, other cells, and mucus. Soluble fiber found in foods like beans and nuts is broken down during digestion and forms a gel-like substance that becomes part of your poop.
On the other hand, foods packed with insoluble fiber, such as corn, oat bran, and carrots, are more difficult for your body to digest, which, per the Mayo Clinic, explains why they may emerge in your poop (stool) looking relatively unchanged.
2. Color Matters When It Comes to Poop
As you may have seen in pictures of poop, the color can vary — a lot — depending on what kinds of food you’ve ingested and other factors. Dr. Sheth has seen patients get full work-ups for bright red stool that turned out to be related to nothing more than the passage of beets.
But don’t ignore red stool, as it may be rectal bleeding, a potential symptom of a serious health issue that needs treatment, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Leafy vegetables can cause green stool, while certain medications can make your poop look white or clay-colored. Look out for jet-black stool. Though it could be from something as harmless as iron supplements or black licorice, the color could be a sign of bleeding or tumors in the upper gastrointestinal tract, Penn Medicine notes.
3. So Does the Shape
Did you know there’s an actual diagnostic chart that classifies human poop into seven categories based on shape and consistency?
The Bristol Stool Form Scale identifies seven types of poop:
- Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like pebbles, that are difficult to pass
- Type 2: Hard and lumpy, resembling a sausage
- Type 3: Sausage-shaped with cracks on the surface
- Type 4: Thinner, more snake-like that is smooth and soft
- Type 5: Soft blobs with clear edges
- Type 6: Mushy pieces with ragged edges
- Type 7: Liquid with no solid pieces
Types 3 and 4 are considered normal, and the shapes are signs of a healthy diet and lifestyle, reports the Cleveland Clinic. Types 1 and 2 signal constipation, while types 6 and 7 are diarrhea and can be signs of an infection, food poisoning, or a gastrointestinal illness. If your poop consistently falls on this part of the scale, talk to your doctor to determine the underlying cause. Type 5 typically indicates a lack of fiber in the diet, which lends bulk to stool and acts as a glue to keep the poop stuck together as it exits your body.
4. Terrible-Smelling Poop May Be a Sign of Infection
It’s no news that poop never smells pleasant, but particularly pungent stool is often a sign of infection, according to Sheth. Terrible-smelling poop is a signature side effect of a stomach bug caused by Giardia parasites, ingested most often during swims in untreated water in springs, rivers, or lakes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It could also suggest a more serious digestive condition such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease, according to Mount Sinai.
5. Consistency Is Key When It Comes to Bowel Movements
Do you hit the bathroom at the same exact time every morning, or can you go days before you need to poop? It’s all normal, says Sheth — the important thing is that you’re consistent with your own routine. Generally, anywhere from three bowel movements per day to three a week falls into the normal range, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A big decrease in poop could be due to a diet change, which is why many people find they’re less regular on weekends or on vacation — they may be eating less fiber or working out less often, both of which promote healthy digestion. Other factors affecting poop output — either a decrease or an increase — are gastrointestinal disorders, an underactive thyroid, or colon cancer, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Cultural differences play a role, too. Sheth notes in his book that South Asians unload nearly three times as much stool as British people do, a difference he explains that’s largely due to the higher fiber content in the average Indian diet.
According to Sheth, on his website DrStool.com, the average American man excretes 150 grams (g) (about one-third of a pound) of poop every day, or the equivalent of five tons in a lifetime!
6. How to Tell if It’s Diarrhea or Constipation
Digestion can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, during which time the food you’ve eaten travels down your esophagus to your stomach, then to your small intestine, your large intestine, and out through the anus.
Diarrhea is the result of your poop passing too quickly through the large intestine, where most of the water content is absorbed. Constipation, on the other hand, is when it takes too long for stool to pass through. Loose stools can be due to many factors, including stomach viruses, foodborne illness, food allergies or intolerances, like lactose intolerance, or from other digestive issues, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Constipation, on the other hand, is when it’s difficult to pass a bowel movement or you poop less frequently than normal. Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Certain medications, lack of exercise, and a lack of fiber or liquid in the diet are all common causes of constipation.
7. Healthy Poop Should Sink in the Toilet
Listen for the sound of your poop as it hits the water in the toilet. Floating stools are often an indication of high fat content, which can be a sign of malabsorption, a condition in which you can’t absorb enough fat and other nutrients from the food you’re ingesting, reports Mount Sinai. It can also be a sign of celiac disease or chronic pancreatitis.
8. It’s Normal to Pass Gas 10 to 18 Times a Day
Incidents of flatulence are embarrassing, at least for some, but farting is completely healthy and the result of harmless bacteria breaking down food in the large intestine. Your colon is filled with bacteria that release gas as a by-product of digesting the food you eat. Your body absorbs some of it into the bloodstream, which you breathe out through your lungs, and expels the rest out of your other end. It’s normal to pass gas anywhere from 10 to 18 times a day, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.
9. Stool Transplants Can Treat Certain Infections
Fecal microbiota transplants are real — and they work. Research shows a fecal transplant — in which stool from a healthy person is placed in the colon of an infected person — is an effective treatment for C. difficile bacterial infection.
The trillions of good bacteria in a healthy person’s poop can recolonize another person’s digestive tract and treat infections that haven’t responded well to other treatments, including antibiotics and probiotics, Sheth says.
Researchers are looking into the potential for fecal transplants to treat other illnesses, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), autism, and obesity, but the procedure is currently not approved for these conditions.
So how do you ask someone to be your poop donor? And more importantly — who? Sheth suggests asking someone whose healthy gut bacteria likely differs from yours; ideally, a friend or family member who lives in a different household.
10. Watch How Long Your Spend on the Toilet
Sitting too long on the toilet can contribute to hemorrhoids, or swollen blood vessels in and around the anus. The longer you stay in the bathroom trying to poop, the more pressure and stress you put on your backside. Sitting for too long on the toilet can also restrict blood flow around the anal area, which can make hemorrhoids worse.
Most of the time, a diet devoid of fiber, which keeps your bowels regular and prevents constipation and hard poop is to blame. Most Americans eat 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day, according to Harvard Health Publishing, but the USDA recommends 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
11. Your Cell Phone Might Be Covered With Poop
Wash your hands well after using the bathroom, or poop may travel with you. British researchers discovered that one in six cellphones were contaminated with poop (stool), which can spread E. coli bacteria, after they collected nearly 400 samples in 12 different cities.
Since phones tend to travel with us everywhere — especially places where we eat, like kitchen counters, restaurant tables, and desks, to name a few — the E. coli bacteria detected on them may play a role in spreading illness.
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How can our faeces help in early diagnosis?
We all poop, and even princesses don’t do it with violets. We’ll tell you what to pay attention to!
What do these symptoms mean?
For some, the process of defecation is uncomfortable and unpleasant, associated with pain or shame. For others, it’s just part of the “cycle of life.” Babies inevitably go through the exciting process of getting to know the contents of their diapers.
In our culture, going to the bathroom “big” is almost never discussed publicly. But there is no need to be ashamed of this process – we all sit on a faience throne from time to time. Shameful inattention can even be harmful – our feces can “tell” about what is happening in the body and how it can be helped.
What is feces made of?
Mainly from undigested food, proteins, bacteria, minerals and other substances passing through the intestines. Every person is unique when it comes to feces, but there are a few common signs in shape, size, and odor that may indicate an unhealthy or unhealthy gastrointestinal tract.
What should be a normal stool?
Healthy feces can be as varied and unique as the people who produced them. But there are several general criteria by which you can evaluate the results of your digestive creativity:
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The natural color for faeces is brown. Bilirubin is responsible for it – a pigment compound formed during the breakdown of red blood cells in the body.
We’re not cube-pooping wombats, so our bowels assume the more traditional, familiar shapes of feces—a log or a sausage. However, as we will learn later, various other options are possible that indicate problems.
Feces should not come out in small “goat” balls (we will also talk about this later). The “standard” length is 5-6 centimeters, which is due to the ease of passage of feces through the intestines.
Here the normal range is quite wide – normal feces can be both harder and softer. Deviations in one direction or another may indicate problems with digestion or an imbalance of fiber in the diet.
Duration of the process
If a person sits in the toilet for a long time, we believe that he is most likely pooping (or perhaps trying to hide from mumbling children for at least ten minutes). But for a healthy body, the process of defecation takes no longer than a couple of minutes. Therefore, if you spend more time in the toilet, this is an occasion to think about it.
What is the shape of feces and what does it indicate?
1. Goat balls
Hard small lumps that come out with difficulty usually indicate constipation. The frequent appearance of such a consistency is a reason to reconsider your diet.
2. Fat Caterpillar
Feces may be sausage-shaped but hard and lumpy in texture. This is also a sign of constipation.
Faeces not too hard, not too soft, with small cracks on the surface. Gold standard, well done! Continue in the same spirit.
Feces are soft, smooth and long, shaped like a snake. In general, this is a variant of the norm.
Feces are small in size, like goat balls, but have a soft texture and a fairly distinct shape. Usually such feces indicate a lack of fiber in the diet, so it is worth sticking to vegetables and cereals.
6. “Vegetable puree”
Feces are “airy” and soft, with jagged edges. This type of stool is closer to diarrhea, so drink plenty of fluids.
Feces are completely liquid, there are few or no solid particles at all. This is diarrhea, or, as the people say, diarrhea. Feces passed through the intestines too quickly and did not have time to form.
What can stool color indicate?
How important is color when it comes to poop? It turns out yes. It helps to understand what is happening inside the body.
The normal color of feces, as we have already said, are shades of brown. A small greenery is also not terrible and may not be a sign of a problem. The following colors of feces should attract your attention:
Who among us has not observed black feces with mild horror after taking a blister of activated charcoal? Surely there are such people, but there are hardly too many of them in the Russian expanses. Other “safe” causes of black stools include iron supplements, bismuth preparations, hematogen, and even licorice.
But if you haven’t used anything like this, immediately go to the doctor – the black color of the feces can be caused by digested blood, which means that somewhere in the upper gastrointestinal tract there is bleeding.
Small greens, as we have already mentioned, are not terrible.
But if the stool is more green than brown, then you may have one of two reasons: either you eat too many greens, or the stool passes through the intestines too quickly. In the latter case, bilirubin simply does not have time to color the stool in the usual brown color.
Pale, whitish or clay-colored
A color that is too light may indicate a lack of bile. We need it for healthy digestion and is normally produced by the liver and gallbladder. If the stool is too light, you may have a clogged bile duct, so don’t put off going to the doctor.
Pale stools can also be a side effect of certain medications.
Yes, it’s blood. Perhaps problems with hemorrhoids, possibly bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract (as we already know, the higher the source of bleeding, the more time the blood has to digest).
Well, or you ate beets. Or cranberries. Or tomatoes.
Greasy, foul-smelling yellow feces may indicate too much fat that has not been digested. It may also be associated with malabsorption of nutrients (for example, celiac disease).
Is it true that feces do not sink, as in the well-known proverb?
Normally, feces should just sink. They begin to swim when the density decreases, which happens due to an increase in the amount of water or gases in the composition.
Another cause may be malabsorption, the malabsorption of nutrients in the small intestine. In this case, the “big swim” may be accompanied by mild constipation.
When can we talk about constipation?
It turns out that constipation is not only a situation of long “sessions in parliament”. From a medical point of view, you can talk about constipation if you have a bowel movement less than three times a week!
There can be many reasons: from a nervous breakdown to problems with the nerves in the pelvic area, from diabetes to pregnancy. We humans are gentle creatures, and a huge number of factors affect our digestion. Many animals “from nerves” also stop pooping first. Take the same cats – after moving or strong excitement, the poor animal may not go to the pot for 3-4 days.
But back to homo sapiens. If you suffer from constipation, try drinking more water and eating vegetables, fruits, and legumes. And don’t forget to move – at least walk. There is a good chance that the problem will be solved.
A not very physiological posture can make defecation difficult. Why this happens can be clearly seen in the extremely ironic commercial with the prince and the unicorn.
When should I see a doctor?
If stool problems persist for more than a couple of days, you should consult a doctor. Green stool or a strange shape happens to everyone from time to time, but recurrence is a sign of a problem.
Chronic constipation can cause bowel obstruction, and chronic diarrhea can make it difficult to absorb essential nutrients and lead to severe dehydration. These conditions can also be signs of more serious illnesses.
Signs of bleeding are a reason to see a doctor without delay.
Do you pay attention to the results of your labors in the toilet?
It may not be very pleasant to look at your feces, except for a glimpse, or think about such an indelicate toilet topic. But this, nevertheless, the quality of bowel movements and the color of urine is a quick, simple and completely free way to understand if everything is in order with our body.
Should your stool float? What does it say if he doesn’t sink? · Medicine in Moscow · Catalog of Russian organizations
Intestinal health is reflected in the characteristics of the stool. Stool can also reflect the health of other body organs such as the stomach, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. Stool characteristics that are used to determine the health of the intestines and other organs include stool consistency, frequency of bowel movements, and stool color and odor. In addition to these characteristics, feces can also be examined in a clinical laboratory to reveal more detailed information about the body’s health.
A feature of stool that can help distinguish health from illness is whether the stool floats or sinks. Under healthy conditions, stool sinks. Floating stools may indicate an underlying medical condition. However, this is not always the case. Not all cases of floating stool indicate an underlying medical condition. Other associated signs and symptoms must be taken into account before suggesting that disease may be present. If floating stools are not accompanied by any other symptoms, then there is usually no cause for immediate concern.
Why does the stool float?
Floating or sinking stool is determined by the density of the substance relative to the density of water. Stool floats when it is less dense than water. This is mainly due to the presence of gas or fat in the stool.
Feces are made up of various components. About 60-75% of stool composition is in the form of water. The remaining components of feces include undigested fiber (about 7.5%), intestinal bacteria (about 7.5%), inorganic components (up to 5%), fat (up to 5%), and a tiny fraction of protein (<1%). As can be seen from the composition, gases do not form any significant proportion of feces. Therefore, even a small increase in the proportion of gas in the stool is enough to reduce the density of the stool and cause it to float.
Floating stools may be caused by an underlying disorder when accompanied by other signs and symptoms. These associated signs and symptoms may include diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, changes in appetite, changes in stool texture, color, and odor.
Causes of floating stools
Gas in the intestines mainly comes from the action of bacteria in the colon. These colon bacteria produce gas as a by-product of their action on the food present in the intestine. Usually the population of these intestinal bacteria is controlled. However, under certain conditions, an increase in their number may occur. Alternatively, some conditions can cause incomplete digestion and absorption of food in the intestines. Both lead to excessive gas production.
Faecal gas also comes from the air that is swallowed while breathing, eating and drinking. Carbonated drinks are a source of gas in the intestines. The gas is also able to diffuse through the intestinal walls. It is released during the chemical breakdown process.
Diseases that cause floating feces are most often associated with disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. Some of the common conditions that can lead to floating stools are:
Infections of the intestines, whether caused by external pathogenic bacteria or internal intestinal bacteria, are the main source of gas in the intestines. As a rule, the growth of the local bacterial flora of the intestine is controlled. This is mainly achieved through the action of the intestinal immune system and competition with other microbial flora. Under abnormal conditions, an overgrowth of bacteria occurs. This results in increased gas production and floating stools.
Food intolerance is caused by a lack of appropriate enzymes that metabolize certain food components. A common example is lactose intolerance, which is the result of a lack of the lactase enzyme. When a lactose intolerant person consumes milk and other dairy products, the lactose sugar in these products is not digested. Bacteria in the gut feed on undigested lactose sugar. This causes excessive gas production and floating stools.
Malabsorption refers to conditions in which nutrients from digested food are not absorbed in the intestines. Intestinal gas production increases as colon bacteria attack food components remaining in the colon. Malabsorption can be caused by a variety of conditions such as intestinal inflammation, intestinal infections, sensitivities to certain foods, and alcoholism.
Diseases of the pancreas
The pancreas is an important player in the digestive process. Pancreatic enzymes enter the small intestine (duodenum) where they help in the digestion of various food components. Diseases that affect the pancreas can disrupt the synthesis and secretion of pancreatic enzymes. Without pancreatic enzymes, food in the intestines is not digested properly. Colon bacteria feed on undigested food and cause increased gas production. This excessive gas production contributes to the formation of floating stools.
Diseases of the gallbladder
The gallbladder secretes a fluid called bile into the intestines. Bile contains fatty emulsifiers that allow digestive enzymes to break down the fats present in food. When bile production or secretion is impaired (due to diseases such as gallbladder disease or surgical removal), fat is not digested properly. Colon bacteria feed on fat and increase in number. As a result, excessive gas production causes floating stools.
The entire length of the human intestine is involved in the digestion and absorption of various food components. When the length of the intestine shortens, it negatively affects digestion and absorption of food. As a result, more food is available for intestinal bacteria. Increased bacterial action leads to excessive gas production and floating stools. A short bowel may result from surgical removal of a portion of the bowel or from a congenital disease.
In addition to the above causes, excessive gas production and floating stools can also be caused by diseases such as celiac disease and cystic fibrosis. Normal conditions, such as pregnancy and dietary changes (such as fasting and eating new foods), also often trigger floating stools.
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