Why Do I Have Foamy Poop?

Conditions that can cause foamy, frothy, or bubbly bowel movements

Foamy poop can have a number of causes, including the stomach flu, conditions like celiac disease and chronic pancreatitis, and parasitic infections like giardiasis.

Bubbly, frothy, or foamy poop isn't enough to point to specific diagnosis. But causes can be narrowed down by considering other factors, such as poop's color and texture, whether or not there is blood present, and the frequency of your bowel movements.

Learn more about possible causes of foamy poop, as well as how to prevent it and what treatment options are available.

Toilet

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Causes in Adults and Children

Foamy stools in adults and children can be caused by a number of medical conditions, including:

  • Stomach flu
  • Celiac disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Giardiasis
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Short bowel syndrome

Though very varied conditions, some of them have one thing in common: They can cause steatorrhea, an increased amount of fat or mucus passed in the stool.

Steatorrhea is a key symptom of fat malabsorption, which means the body does not fully absorb certain fats. When this occurs, fat content in stool may increase, which can produce stools that may be:

  • Frothy
  • Greasy
  • Pale
  • Gray
  • Bulky
  • Watery
  • Foul-smelling
  • Large in volume

This stool may be difficult to flush as it can stick to the sides of the toilet or even float on top of the water.

Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)

Gastroenteritis, also called the stomach flu, can cause foamy diarrhea. This happens when gas bubbles in the intestines are passed along with loose stools. 

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the gastrointestinal tract. It is usually caused by a virus such as norovirus or a bacteria that you ingest when you eat contaminated or undercooked food.

Most cases of gastroenteritis resolve on their own in a few days, but if you have symptoms that persist or are accompanied by dehydration or blood in the stool, you should see your healthcare provider.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body's own immune system launches an attack when gluten is ingested. This can cause damage to the small intestine.

In celiac disease, the body may not fully absorb nutrients leading to diarrhea, as well as steatorrhea.

People with celiac disease may experience a variety of symptoms including, but not limited to:

  • Stools that are foul-smelling
  • Frothy, greasy, and/or foamy stools
  • Stools that are difficult to flush
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Fatigue

How Common Is Celiac Disease?

It is estimated that roughly 2 million people in the U.S. are living with celiac disease, but many people live undiagnosed.

Celiac disease can't be diagnosed based on symptoms alone, since symptoms tend to vary widely from person to person and can resemble the symptoms of other gastrointestinal conditions.

To help diagnose the condition, your healthcare provider may order a blood test or biopsy. Genetic testing can also help with a diagnosis. 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the gastrointestinal system. Symptoms typically include abdominal pain and discomfort, gas, bloating, and constipation and/or diarrhea. Foamy stools are also a common symptom of IBS.

The cause of IBS is unclear, but some researchers believe it is related to an over- or undergrowth of the normal bacteria in your digestive system. Psychological factors like stress and anxiety may also contribute to this condition.

There are no specific tests to diagnose IBS, but you may need blood tests or stool samples to rule out other conditions such as celiac disease. An IBS diagnosis is usually made based on your symptoms and medical history and after other conditions are excluded.

Giardiasis

Giardiasis is a disease caused by a parasite known as Giardia duodenalis, often called Giardia. If a person is infected with Giardia, the parasites inhabit the intestines and the stool. It is spread by:

  • Consuming food or water contaminated with Giardia parasites
  • Travel in areas of poor sanitation
  • Close contact with a person infected
  • Touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth
  • Sexual contact with someone who has or recently has had Giardia

Giardia can cause a variety of other gastrointestinal symptoms, including:

  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Greasy stool
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Nausea
  • Stools that float
  • Foul-smelling stool

If your healthcare provider suspects giardiasis, they may test a sample of your stool for the presence of the Giardia parasite.

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation in the pancreas that worsens over time. The disease makes it difficult for the body to properly digest food or make pancreatic hormones.

In chronic pancreatitis, the body does not produce the necessary amount of pancreatic enzymes to digest food. This causes a lack of proper nutrient absorption and may cause steatorrhea, which can lead to frothy stools.

Other changes in stool due to chronic pancreatitis include diarrhea and clay-colored or stool pale stool.

Pancreatitis is usually diagnosed with a combination of imaging scans, lab tests, and diagnostic procedures such as upper endoscopy.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a disease that causes the body to produce thick mucus that can affect the lungs, pancreas, and digestive system.

In the digestive system, the mucus can slow the passage of food. It can also clog the ducts in your liver, pancreas, and intestines and prevent digestive enzymes from entering your intestines.

This leads to malabsorption, which in turn can cause bulky, foamy stools. The mucus itself can also be passed through the stool and contribute to the foamy or frothy appearance.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition that is passed down in families. There is no cure, but treatment can help people with the condition live longer, healthier lives. 

Early diagnosis improves the long-term health of people with cystic fibrosis. In the United States, babies are routinely screened for the condition at birth.

Short Bowel Syndrome

This condition can occur after weight loss surgery or other procedures that remove part of the intestine, such as surgery to remove cancer or correct intestinal injuries. Some children may also be born with a short bowel.

Short bowel syndrome occurs because the shorter part of the digestive system is less able to absorb nutrients and fats from food, causing malabsorption. People with short bowel syndrome may have chronic diarrhea that appears foamy, as well as other symptoms such as fatigue and bloating.

Short bowel syndrome may resolve on its own. Cases that last longer can be treated with nutritional supplements.

Causes in Babies

Babies who are breastfed may produce frothy poop that is bright green in color.

This is not a cause for concern as it typically suggests the baby is getting too much foremilk, or the milk that comes at the beginning of a breastfeeding.

It can also be due to the nursing parent switching from one breast to the other during a feed.

Breastfeeding from one breast at a time until that breast is drained ensures the baby is getting the hindmilk as well.

Treatment

Treatment options for foamy stools will vary based on the underlying cause. Giardiasis, for example, doesn't always require treatment. Mild cases may resolve on their own. If you have a severe case of giardiasis, your healthcare provider may prescribe an antiparasitic/antibiotic such as Flagyl (metronidazole), Tindamax (tinidazole), or Alinia (nitazoxanide)..

For chronic conditions like celiac disease, you'll need to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. This will typically result in an improvement of symptoms like foamy poop.

Additional treatment options may also involve supplements to address malabsorption and malnutrition.

Prevention

Preventing frothy stools depends heavily on the underlying cause.

  • Celiac disease: Celiac disease itself can't be prevented, but adhering to a strict gluten-free diet may help prevent some symptoms and may reduce any further damage to the body.
  • Gastroenteritis: Viral and bacterial gastroenteritis can be prevented with good hygiene practices like hand washing. Cooking food to a safe internal temperature and taking steps to prevent cross-contamination can prevent foodborne versions of this illness.
  • Chronic pancreatitis: Some lifestyle choices that can help reduce symptoms and control chronic pancreatitis include avoiding alcohol or smoking, and following the dietary recommendations of your doctor. This may include a low-fat, high-protein, high-calorie diet that includes fat-soluble vitamin supplements.
  • Giardiasis: There are a number of ways to prevent giardiasis like avoiding food or drink that may be contaminated, practicing safe sex, and not swallowing water found in pools, hot tubs, or untreated swimming areas like lakes or rivers.
  • Cystic fibrosis: This is an inherited condition and cannot be prevented, but following the treatment plan devised by your doctor will assist in reducing symptom severity. Taking enzymes can help with the digestion of food, which may help prevent frothy stools.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have consistently frothy stools you may have an issue with proper absorption within the digestive tract. This can warrant a visit to your healthcare provider as long-term complications from malabsorption include:

Summary

Foamy poop is typically the result of an increased amount of fat in the stool. This can be caused by a number of conditions including celiac disease, chronic pancreatitis, giardiasis, and cystic fibrosis. In babies, foamy poop can be related to breastfeeding. Treatment specific to the cause of your foamy stools will alleviate most gastrointestinal symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

If you notice changes in your stool like foamy or frothy poop, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional. They will be able to help you determine the cause of your foamy stool and provide you with treatment and prevention options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does healthy poop float or sink?

    Some people may find their poop floats while others notice their poop sinks. Floating poo is not always a cause for concern but may indicate:

    • Pancreatitis
    • Too much gas, usually related to diet
    • Malabsorption
    • A gastrointestinal infection
  • Is foamy poop normal in babies?

    Parents may notice their breastfed baby has bright green, foamy poop. This may be due to the baby getting too much foremilk during a feed. This is the milk that comes out at the beginning of a feeding, and the resulting foamy stool can be resolved by feeding from one breast until it drains during a feeding.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Loma Linda University. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

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  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition & facts for celiac disease.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parasites - Giardia.

  6. The National Pancreas Foundation. About chronic pancreatitis.

  7. The National Pancreas Foundation. Chronic pancreatitis causes and symptoms.

  8. Stanford Medicine Children's Health. Cystic fibrosis and the digestive system.

  9. Pregnancy birth and baby. All about baby poo.

  10. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for celiac disease.

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  12. Nemours Kids Health. Cystic fibrosis.

  13. MedlinePlus. Malabsorption.