What Does It Mean If You Have Oily Stools?

Reviewed on 8/3/2022

Man standing with a roll of toilet paper with a toilet in the background
Causes of oily stools include chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis (CF), pancreatic tumors, cholestasis, cholangitis, ileal resection, Crohn’s disease of the ileum, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), celiac disease, tropical sprue, giardiasis, and others.

Oily stool (steatorrhea) may be a sign your body is not properly digesting the fat you consume. There are many reasons this could happen. 

Causes of oily stools include: 

  • Conditions leading to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
    • Chronic pancreatitis
    • Cystic fibrosis (CF)
    • Conditions resulting in pancreatic duct obstruction or resection of the pancreas such as pancreatic tumors
  • Bile acid deficiency states
  • Diseases affecting the small intestine
  • Uncommon causes 
    • Use of lipase inhibitors such as orlistat (Xenical, Alli)
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome 
    • Graft-versus-host disease

What Are Symptoms of Oily Stools?

Symptoms of oily stools (steatorrhea) may include stool that is: 

  • A greasy or oily consistency 
  • Difficult to flush/tends to float
  • Bulky
  • Pale
  • Foul-smelling 

Other symptoms that may accompany oily stools depend on the cause and can include: 

How Are Oily Stools Diagnosed?

Oily stools (steatorrhea) are diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination. Tests used to help determine the cause of oily stools may include 

What Is the Treatment for Oily Stools?

Treatment for oily stools (steatorrhea) depends on the underlying cause. 

Treatment for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) may include: 

  • Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)  
  • Normal to a high-fat diet 
  • Fat-soluble vitamin supplementation

Treatment for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) may include: 

Treatment for celiac disease may include: 

  • Diet-centered recommendations including a strict life-long gluten-free diet
  • Education about the disease
  • Management of nutritional deficiencies
  • Consultation with a dietitian knowledgeable in celiac disease 

Treatment for primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) may include: 


Pancreatitis is inflammation of an organ in the abdomen called the pancreas. See Answer

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Reviewed on 8/3/2022

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