Well, before we begin our discussion about the treatment of steatorrhea, do you know what steatorrhea is? Are you aware of its causes, signs and symptoms, and how it is being diagnosed? So before we go straight to the treatment, let us first discuss the things mentioned earlier. This article will help you learn more about steatorrhea and some basic treatment modalities for this condition.
Steatorrhea is the medical term for the presence of excess fat in the stool as a result of fat malabsorption. This may be an outcome of the lack of bile in the stool as caused by an obstruction in the biliary tract or certain medical conditions such as but not limited to pancreatitis, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis and Crohn’s disease. Aside from disease related causes, steatorrhea can also be caused by certain drugs such as Orlistat, or intake of oils such as castor oil and many more.
A stool, which is also known as feces, poop, bowel movement, etc., are the waste products of digestion that is excreted by man from the body. This is the end result of the digestive process where those that can’t be absorbed stays in the large intestine and until it is excreted.
Signs and Symptoms of Steatorrhea
In steatorrhea, the color of the stool is pale, white, gray or clay-colored. Aside from its distinct color, the stool also tends to be loose, bulky, floats in the toilet bowl, has a foul smell and appears oily or greasy due to the excess fat. Due to these characteristics of the stool, it tends to stick on the sides of the toilet bowl and is quite difficult to flush. There may also be anal leakage because of the oily or greasy property of the stool. Aside from these common signs and symptoms, other signs and symptoms of steatorrhea will include colicky abdominal pain, presence of distended abdomen, flatulence or excessive rumbling noise produced as a result of the gases in the intestine.
In the case of steatorrhea, it is either short term or long term in duration. If it is temporary or short term it may only be due from changes in the diet or gastrointestinal infection. However, once it persists and becomes long term then it may be a sign of serious condition, therefore, seek immediate medical assistance.
Diagnosis of Steatorrhea
Steatorrhea will be diagnosed by the use of a combination of history taking, physical observation of the signs and symptoms, and series of laboratory tests to determine the underlying cause or medication problem. To confirm the diagnosis of steatorrhea, a Sudan stain test is done. This test will detect the presence of fats. The normal output is < 7 g of fat in a 24 hour period, therefore, steatorrhea is confirmed when a person excretes > 7 g of fat after consuming 100 g of fat on a daily basis. Although Sudan test is what is commonly obtained, the most accurate test for estimating the amount of fecal fat is the Van de Kamer method, which is a 72-hour fat chemical analysis.
Once steatorrhea is confirmed, another test will be done to differentiate between absorptive abnormality and digestive abnormality. This is the D-xylose test. Other tests done are bentiromide test (chronic pancreatitis), x-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, ERCP and barium swallow for structural problems, Schilling tests (I and II), bile acid breath tests, biopsy, blood smear examination, upper GI series, CBC and urinalysis.
Treatment of Steatorrhea
In general, the treatment of steatorrhea will depend on the underlying health condition of an individual. Once the cause is tested and confirmed, then the appropriate treatment can be decided on and applied.
Keep in mind that only your doctor can give advice which treatment is suitable for your specific medical condition. Discuss your treatment options and alternatives with your medical doctor prior to making a decision.
Here is a simple and basic list of the general treatment guide for steatorrhea at home.
General Treatment Guide at Home
Although medications are on the top list for the treatment of steatorrhea, lifestyle changes can also aid in managing this condition.
- Diet Modification
This is a very important part in the overall treatment of steatorrhea. Before implying a certain diet to a patient, it is very important to know what the primary cause is, to find out which diet should be taken.
The most basic and simple of all these treatment under the diet modification is lessening or decreasing the amount of fat content in one’s diet can facilitate in maintaining the symptoms under control.
In certain underlying disease for steatorrhea such as the Celiac Disease, aside from a less fat or fat free diet, the person is also placed on a gluten free diet.
Aside from Celiac disease, vitamin B12 deficiency is somehow linked also as a cause of steatorrhea and because of that, nutritional support with foods rich in vitamin B12 or vitamin B12 supplements. On the other hand, in such cases where the cause is iron deficiency anemia or folate / folic acide deficiency then their supplements should be taken by the patient.
In addition to what was mentioned earlier, pancreatic enzyme replacements or supplements are also given depending on the underlying medical problem of a patient such as in the a case of chronic pancreatitis.
- Alcohol Reduction / Cutback
Sometimes, steatorrhea is caused by excessive or heavy alcohol drinking, therefore, a person’s alcohol intake should be reduced, cutback or even put to an end gradually. Remember to drink moderately. But in cases where there is a great impairment or serious disease of the liver or pancreas due to chronic and heavy alcohol drinking, then the person should slowly withdraw from the alcohol until completely he/she completely stops from drinking alcohol.
Other treatment options (those that are case specific) will already depend on the medical case causing the steatorrhea. I will not focus on that anymore since those options may vary as per case to case basis. Moreover, please do consult and ask your doctor about the treatment options and alternatives.
Prevention of Steatorrhea
As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” by Benjamin Franklin, only means that an early diagnosis will most likely result to hasty treatment. Being knowledgeable about the details on steatorrhea, its underlying causes and treatment will prepare you to deal with the condition at present or in the future. Be sure to take care of your body because some causes of steatorrhea are primarily due to human lifestyle such as excessive alcohol drinking, too much fat in the diet, nutritional deficiencies and many more. So if you don’t have steatorrhea yet, do watch the amount of your alcohol intake and remember to drink moderately. If you like fatty foods, then try and practice cutting back the portion of what you eat or practice healthy choices in grocery shopping for food as well as learn to read nutritional labels. For possible nutritional deficiencies, there are supplements available for this condition.
If you think that your case of steatorrhea is serious or that it really bothers you, then go to the nearest telephone or hospital and set an immediate appointment with your doctor.
Casio Wiser is an health advocate for Oddi.net