Steatorrhea is a condition in which there is a malabsorption of fats during digestion. In case of malabsorption of a particular nutrient in the digestive system, it is excreted from the body causing a sort of pseudo deficiency. This condition can be develop due to various other pre-existing conditions. The treatment of this condition depends upon the etiology of the disorder.
The underlying cause of this condition is a defect or alteration in the functioning of the digestive system. The causes of this condition are given below.
- Liver damage may lead to decrease or loss of secretion of bile acids. Bile acids play a major role in absorption of fats during digestion. Thus, lack of these bile acids leads to malabsorption of fats during digestion.
- Proper absorption of fats may not occur due to a defect in the secretion of enzymes.
- If the mucosal lining of the digestive system is damaged, then the nutrients are not absorbed properly. Malabsorption of fats can also occur due to other diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, etc.
- In cystic fibrosis, the pancreatic ducts get blocked due to mucus which may leads to a significant decrease in digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase, trypsin, and chymotrypsin. This in turn may hamper the absorption of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
- Other diseases in which this condition is observed are Crohn’s disease and Whipple’s syndrome.
Symptoms are often related to the nature of stool.
- Large, greasy, and malodorous stools.
- These stools have oil droplets in them. Anal leakage is also a common symptom of this condition.
- The color of the stool varies from pale to gray, this generally occurs in case of a liver disorder.
- Floating stools which are difficult to flush is a common symptom
- Weight loss and fatigue can also be observed in some patients.
- Fecal incontinence is often observed.
A test known as Sudan III stain test is conducted to determine the presence of fats in the fecal matter. If a patient has a daily intake of 100 gm of fats and excretes around 7 gm of fats, steatorrhea is confirmed. Other tests include CBC (complete blood count), blood smear examination, urinalysis, and D-xylose absorption test to diagnose any other disorder that may be the cause for this condition.
The treatment often depends on the underlying cause. A few diagnostic tests, help in understanding the etiology of this disease. When there is lack of fat-digesting enzymes in the body, they have to be ingested with every meal. Around 30,000 units of the lipase enzyme needs to be consumed with every meal. These enzymes have to be protected from gastric acid digestion, which can be achieved by consuming enteric-coated pancreatic enzymes. The liver disorders have to be treated in case of lack of bile acids, which can also be caused due to bile duct obstruction. The treatment for this obstruction is totally different and may require surgery, but this is not considered as a treatment as the liver disorder is the main cause of concern and steatorrhea is a secondary feature. Dietary control is often effective in such cases. A control over the daily intake of fats while being treated for the condition is a fast way to get rid of the problem.
Symptoms are a cause of concern as they are an indication of various other grave disorders underlying the condition. Therefore, ignoring them is never an option. Consult a doctor and get a thorough check-up to identify the cause behind the problem.