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Foamy or frothy stool is typically diarrhea-like and may appear to have bubbles in it. It may also seem oily or contain mucus. It can stem from a malabsorption disorder, pancreatitis, and other conditions.

Normal stool is usually solid and brown, but there can be many variations.

A reaction to certain foods often causes foamy stool. If this is the case, it will be an isolated incident and resolve with time and hydration. Generally speaking, foamy stools can result from consuming more fat than the body can digest.

However, foamy stool can also signal an underlying medical condition. Read on to learn more about causes and treatments and when to see a doctor.

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The five most common causes of foamy stool include:

1. Malabsorption disorder

When the body cannot effectively absorb or use nutrients in food, this is known as malabsorption disorder.

One common malabsorption disorder is celiac disease. This involves a person having an autoimmune reaction to consuming gluten, leading to intestines becoming inflamed and other gastrointestinal symptoms such as changes in stools.

Dietary intolerances to other foods can cause similar symptoms. These foods include:

  • eggs
  • fructose
  • lactose
  • seafood
  • sugar alcohols, such as mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol

A person may have foamy stool after eating a certain type of food. They may also feel bloated or nauseous.

2. Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis can be an acute or chronic condition. It can hinder a person’s ability to digest fats.

This condition can cause significant pain, especially in the upper abdominal region, and pain can spread to the back.

Causes of pancreatitis include gallstones, alcohol misuse, pancreatic cancer, or genetic disorders that affect the pancreas.

In addition to foamy stool, pancreatitis may also include the following symptoms:

Pancreatitis may require admission to a hospital for treatment.

3. Infection

A bacterial, parasitic, or viral infection in the gastrointestinal tract can create gas bubbles, making stool appear foamy.

A common source of infection is the Giardia parasite. Consuming contaminated water or food may result in infection. A person may also come into contact with contaminated water when swimming, for example.

Other symptoms of an infection include:

  • fatigue
  • gas
  • nausea
  • stomach cramping
  • unexplained weight loss

It can take anywhere from 2–6 weeks for symptoms of an infection to resolve.

4. Irritable bowel syndrome

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may have mucus in their stool, which can make the stool appear foamy.

Additional symptoms of IBS include:

5. Abdominal surgeries

Abdominal surgeries can affect digestion. These may include operations to remove a portion of the large or small intestine.

Surgeries may cause short bowel syndrome, which can lead to chronic diarrhea and foamy stool. This condition may be temporary and resolve once the body heals.

However, if a person has this syndrome in the long term, a doctor will usually recommend supplements to ensure that the individual receives adequate nutrition.

Frothy or foamy stool can be common in babies and is not usually a cause for concern.

Foamy stool in babies can result from a few different issues. Sometimes it is often a sign that a baby is getting an overload of lactose, a sugar found in breast milk.

Throughout a feeding session, the amount of fat in breast milk increases. There is less fat at the start of a feed (this is sometimes called foremilk). Toward the end of a feed, the fat content in the milk is higher (sometimes called hindmilk).

The fat in breast milk slows the milk’s passage through the GI tract, which allows for thorough digestion. If a baby is not drinking enough of the higher fat hindmilk, sometimes the milk moves too quickly through their system and they can’t digest the lactose completely. This can result in gas, belly discomfort, and foamy poop.

There is no set amount of time required to drink enough of the hindmilk. A good strategy is to allow a baby to drain one breast before moving to the other side. For some babies this takes 20 minutes, for some it might take less than 5 minutes.

If a baby has foamy stool frequently, it may be a good idea to consult a lactation consultant. They can help assess all the facets of breastfeeding, such as the quality of the baby’s latch, the length of time between feeds, and whether the lactating parent has an oversupply of milk or a fast let down. Any of these things can contribute to foamy poop in babies. With good lactation support, there are many strategies to work through all of these issues.

Treatments for foamy stool depend on the underlying cause.

A doctor may recommend eliminating foods that often cause intolerances. This can help determine whether one or more of these foods is responsible for the symptom.

If a doctor or dietitian diagnoses someone with IBS, they can also help develop a diet plan that will reduce the person’s symptoms. A person may want to avoid foods that commonly cause gas, as well as fried foods.

It may be helpful to keep a food diary to determine which foods lead to IBS symptoms.

For Giardia infections, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics and recommend drinking plenty of water and beverages with electrolytes to avoid dehydration from diarrhea.

A person can use electrolyte powder to make rehydrating drinks. Electrolyte powder is available for purchase online.

Healthcare professionals usually treat pancreatitis with intravenous fluids and pain medications. In some cases, antibiotics may be necessary. If a person has chronic pancreatitis, a doctor may recommend surgery, though this is rare.

If a person has foamy stool on more than two occasions, they should see a doctor.

Seek immediate medical attention if any of the symptoms below accompany foamy stool:

  • a temperature higher than 100.4°F (38°C)
  • bloody stool
  • dizziness
  • severe abdominal pain
  • severe diarrhea that occurs for more than 2 days

A doctor can evaluate a person’s symptoms and recommend tests to determine the underlying cause.

While foamy stool may be concerning, a change in diet may help reduce the amount of mucus causing the symptom.

If foamy stool is signaling a more serious condition, such as pancreatitis, a doctor can provide treatment and recommend methods for pain management and prevention.

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