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Steatorrhea – Pictures, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Steatorrhea?


Steatorrhea is a medical condition in which there is an excessive amount of fat deposit in the fecal matter. One tell that the stool has fat because it floats, it is greasy or oily in appearance and it has a foul smell. The reason why fat deposits can be seen in a person’s fecal matter is usually due to the digestive tract having problems with absorbing fats. Steatorrhea is commonly found in syndromes that deal with malabsorption problems.

Steatorrhea picture

Pic 1- Steatorrhea showing Fatty Stool

Steatorrhea Symptoms

Steatorrhea is suspected when a person has stools that are foul smelling, greasy and large. Other symptoms and signs that are associated with Steatorrhea are as follows:

  • Stools that are loose in nature
  • Stools that are pale
  • Stools that are bulky or heavy

Aside from these common symptoms, Steatorrhea may also accompany other known signs and symptoms that are associated with digestive tract problems such as:

  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stools that are either tarry or black or red
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal cramping

Some patients will complain of the following symptoms, which may be associated with other problems that occur in other systems throughout the body, which include:

  • Urine that is dark in hue
  • Itchy skin
  • Unexplained weight-loss
  • Jaundice or skin turning yellow in hue
  • Infections that occur frequently
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Level of consciousness changes
  • Having difficulty in breathing
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Stool having pus

What causes Steatorrhea?

Steatorrhea may be experienced by a person either temporarily or persistently. Temporary Steatorrhea may be due to changes made in diet of the patients or because of presence of infections in the intestinal region. Steatorrhea that is experienced in a persistent manner may be due to a disease that affects the pancreas, biliary tract or perhaps a problem in the intestinal region. Other reasons for Steatorrhea are as follows:

  • Idiopathic

Idiopathic is a medical term that means no known cause. There has been research conducted that links idiopathic Steatorrhea to nontropical sprue, celiac disease and tropical sprue as each of these have the same pathological process. Another study suggests that there to be no connection of familial cases associated with Steatorrhea.

  • Pancreatic

Normally, the pancreas help in the absorption of fat through the digestive enzyme called lipase.

    • Cystic Fibrosis

However, when a person is known to have cystic fibrosis, the fat absorption is affected and does not function appropriately. Cystic fibrosis is known to interfere with the person’s pancreas particularly in its ability to secrete the digestive enzyme. And inability to do so results in pancreatic insufficiency.

    • Pancreatitis

This is a medical term that means the pancreas is inflamed. When such happens, the lipase can’t function properly which results in Steatorrhea.

    • Pancreatic cancer

Those with pancreatic cancer have a tumor that grows in the pancreas and when it grows it stretches the pancreas and will lead to the disruption of the digestive enzyme production, which then leads to Steatorrhea.

    • Congenital pancreatic lipase deficiency

This congenital pancreatic lipase deficiency usually happens at birth. When such happens, it also disturbs the normal lipase function, which leads to an inability in the pancreas to absorb fats.

  • Biliary tract

Steatorrhea may also be brought about by problems that affect the biliary tract such as:

    • Gallstone formation
    • Cancer of the gallbladder or biliary tract
    • Stricture in the biliary tract
    • Atresia of the biliary tract
  • Intestinal

Lastly, Steatorrhea may also be associated with problems associated in the intestinal region like:

    • Short bowel syndrome
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Intolerance to food
    • Celiac disease
    • Infection that involves bacterial, viral or parasitic kind
    • Whipple’s disease

Aside from the ones mentioned above, medicine and excess of consumption of alcoholic beverages also leads to Steatorrhea.

Steatorrhea Diagnosis

When suspected to have Steatorrhea, the physician will base the diagnosis on the tests conducted, such tests include:

  • Physical examination
  • Medical historical examination
  • Abdominal x-ray
  • CT scan
  • ERCP
  • Schilling tests
  • Biopsy
  • Duodenal aspiration
  • Three day fecal fat
  • Ultrasound
  • D-xylose absorption
  • Fecal fat concentration
  • Sudan III stain

Steatorrhea Differential Diagnosis

The differential diagnosis of persons with Steatorrhea includes:

  • Cholangitis
  • Pre eclampsia, which is related to liver disease
  • Choledocholithiasis
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Viral hepatitis

These are some of the differential diagnoses that are associated in those having Steatorrhea.

Steatorrhea Treatment

Depending on various etiological factors, treatment for those suffering from Steatorrhea vary. The treatment also depends on the symptoms experienced by the person as well as their age. The following treatment may be done:

  • Healthy lifestyle

One should follow a healthy lifestyle when one has Steatorrhea. One example of adapting to a healthy lifestyle is by eating a diet rich in vegetables and fish.

  • Eating a balanced diet

Balanced diet can be achieved when one consumes foods that are normally low in fat, such as fruits, whole grains, vegetables and the like. Aside from that, the persons with Steatorrhea are encouraged to digest foods that are rich in fiber.

  • Reduction of the consumption of alcohol

Another thing that one should adopt in their lifestyle is to reduce the alcohol consumption, as alcohol can exacerbate an already poor-functioning liver.

  • Management of weight

This is another important thing to consider when one has Steatorrhea, which is the management of weight. In managing weight, one must have lesser consumption of fat and must do exercise.

  • Medical treatment

    • Pancreatic enzyme supplements

Usually physicians will prescribe supplements, particularly pancreatic enzyme supplements, which are known to decompose in the person’s small intestines. These types of supplements also have the ability to restore the body to normal function. Other medications prescribed are:

    • Antihistamines–which are used to cure itchy episodes
    • Cholestyramine–which is a known bile acid sequestrant that functions to bind the bile in the person’s gastrointestinal tract.
    • H2 blockers–which are known to block histamine 2, which reduces the acid amount found in the person’s stomach.
    • Analgesics–which are known to relieve pain episodes

These are the common treatments that are effective for the treatment of Steatorrhea. However if the symptoms get far worse, the person with Steatorrhea may be advised to undergo surgical procedure depending on the assessment done by the physician.

Steatorrhea Pictures

Whipple Disease picsPicture 2 – The mechanism of fat mixture in the GIT leading to SteatorrheaFatty Deposits images

Picture 3 – Fatty Deposits on the StoolImage of Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

Picture 4 – Steatorrhea may also be brought about by problems that affect the biliary tract

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