DEAR DR. ROACH: I have read that whether stools float or sink could be an indication of one’s health, even to the point of being an early sign of pancreatic cancer. Isn’t it just about density and gas -- that is, doesn’t most food we eat float in water, and if you mix in gas, shouldn’t most stools float? I used to have a lot of sinkers, but now I eat a lot less meat and more fish, fiber and salads. I also take a lot of supplements, so perhaps those are not getting completely absorbed and hence, creating more gas in the stools? For the past two years, I have floaters 80 percent of the time, but my doctor does not seem concerned. Should I be alarmed or see a specialist? — A.A.
ANSWER: We ask about stools floating because it can be a sign of poor fat absorption. Several conditions can cause this, including celiac sprue, inflammatory bowel disease, infection and pancreatic insufficiency. These conditions usually have other symptoms, so floating stools by themselves are not a cause for alarm.
Diet is indeed the likely cause.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I am writing in regard to your column on pancreatitis. My sister went to hospital with the same symptoms and was diagnosed with pancreatitis as well. The doctor implied that she must be an alcoholic because her liver enzymes were elevated. I had had my gallbladder removed several years earlier because it was non-functioning (our family history includes gallstones). This was determined by a test in nuclear medicine. When I reminded my sister, she requested this test and her gallbladder also was not functioning. They removed the gallbladder, and she has not had an attack since (this was 10 years ago). She also was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, which was the reason for the changes to the liver. I hope this information will benefit other people suffering from pancreatitis. — S.P.