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Could Floating Poop Be A Sign of Celiac Disease?

Should you worry about floating poop? The answer is complex. It could be nothing or a sign of something serious like celiac disease or pancreatic cancer.

Several years ago we heard from a concerned reader that his bowel movements floated. At first he worried it might be something really serious, like pancreatic cancer. But then he realized he would have been long gone if that had been the case since his stools had floated for decades.

What About Celiac Disease

Our reader did some searching and discovered that one of the symptoms of celiac disease can be tan floating poop. He also had quite a few other symptoms of celiac disease so he decided to give up gluten and see what happened. After several weeks he felt much better, but when he mentioned this to his doctors they dismissed his story. His question: “What else should I be doing?”

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

  • Fatty floating stool (tan or light gray)
  • Digestive discomfort (bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea, flatulence, heartburn)
  • Fatigue, tiredness, irritability, exhaustion, headache
  • Anemia
  • Edema (fluid retention)
  • Joint pain
  • Psychological symptoms (anxiety and/or depression)
  • Nerve damage (numbness or tingling in hands or feet)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy blistery skin condition)
  • Easy bruising
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

Readers to the Rescue

T.H. offered this advice:

“I think you should get tested for Celiac Disease. You need to get the blood test first. You should keep eating gluten a few weeks before the blood test; otherwise, you could get a false negative.

“Celiac Disease gets overlooked more often than not. I would tell your doctors that you would like to get a blood test. If it is positive, then you should see a gastroenterologist who will perform an endoscopy to verify your blood test results with a biopsy.”

K.H. went into even more detail:

“At this point, he definitely should do more than avoid gluten. He needs to be tested for Celiac Disease before it’s too late. His doctor can order blood tests that indicate either gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease. The most specific blood test for Celiac is Anti-Tissue Transglutaminase-IgA. There are two DNA tests, as well, but these are less definitive, as he might have the gene(s), but not the disease. The “gold standard” of Celiac diagnosis is biopsy of the small intestine.

“He must get the biopsy before he has been off gluten for long, because in the absence of gluten the intestine heals, so over time, the biopsy will show a false negative. After avoiding gluten for a while, the blood tests also will be negative, and this can indicate that his diet truly is gluten-free.

“I had avoided most (but not all) gluten for a decade when my blood tests came back positive. Fearing a false negative, I declined intestinal biopsy. Now that I’ve been strictly gluten-free for years, gastroenterologists agree that it’s too late for me to be biopsied. I feel certain I am Celiac, because in addition to three positive blood tests, two positive DNA tests, and vast improvement in my health living gluten-free, now if I accidentally eat gluten, my digestion fails and I experience miserable symptoms for three weeks.

“I fear that should I ever be admitted to a hospital, doctors may not believe I am celiac, because I don’t have the “proof” of a biopsy. As an in-patient I may have difficulty ensuring the safety of my nutrition.

“I urge your reader to eat gluten a little while longer, get the blood tests, and if they are positive, get the intestinal biopsy. (With positive biopsy results, pricey DNA tests are unnecessary.) He’ll be so glad to have definitive proof of his illness, if indeed his is celiac.”

Another possibility: H. Pylori Infection

Although physicians rarely test for this intestinal infection, it too can lead to floating stools. One reader suffered many of the same symptoms as celiac patients including bellyaches, flatulence and fatigue.

She tried a gluten-free diet and while it helped a bit this approach did not solve the problem entirely. Her doctor tested for the bacteria H. pylori and it came back positive. After treatment with antibiotics and probiotics her stools stopped floating, the smelly gas disappeared and she recovered completely.

You can learn more about overcoming H. pylori at this link and find out how other readers beat this stomach bug. By the way, broccoli sprouts can help defeat this bacterial infection.

Is Floating Poop Always a Problem?

J.P. asked whether there is anything wrong with having floating stools if there are no other symptoms.

Our answer: Most of the time, you need to worry about this only if it is a sudden change from your previous experience. But such a change is worth checking out.

B.C. points out that:

“Floating poop could be the sign of something more serious. In my husband’s case, it was one of the first signs of pancreatic cancer. So always mention it to the doc, especially if paired with fatigue and pale-looking skin (which turned out to be jaundice).”

Bottom Line:

Floating poop is not necessarily something to worry about, but it could be a sign of celiac disease or H. pylori infection. There are relatively easy tests for both conditions. A sudden change in bowel behavior requires prompt medical assessment. As B.C. suggests, always mention symptoms such as floating poop, fatigue or changes in skin color to your physician.

Discover more details about dealing with a range of digestive tract woes in our Guide to Digestive Disorders.
Share your own floating poop story below and please vote on this article at the top of the page.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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