Print-Friendly
Bookmarks

Malabsorption

 

Malabsorption is difficulty absorbing nutrients from food.

Causes

 

Many diseases can cause malabsorption. Malabsorption is usually the inability to absorb certain sugars, fats, proteins, or vitamins from food. It can also involve a general malabsorption of food.

Some of the causes of malabsorption include:

  • AIDS and HIV
  • Biliary atresia
  • Celiac disease
  • Certain medications (cholestyramine, tetracycline, some antacids, some medications used to treat obesity, colchicine, acarbose, phenytoin)
  • Certain types of cancer (lymphoma, pancreatic cancer, gastrinomas)
  • Certain types of surgery (gastrectomy with gastrojejunostomy, surgical treatments for obesity, partial or complete removal of the ileum)
  • Cholestasis
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Cow's milk protein intolerance
  • Crohn's disease
  • Damage from radiation treatments
  • Parasite infection, including Giardia lamblia
  • Soy milk protein intolerance
  • Whipple's disease

Vitamin B12 malabsorption may be due to:

  • Pernicious anemia
  • Bowel resection
  • Tapeworm infection (Diphyllobothrium latum)

 

Symptoms

 

  • Bloating, cramping, and gas
  • Bulky stools
  • Chronic diarrhea (may not occur with vitamin malabsorption)
  • Failure to thrive
  • Fatty stools (steatorrhea)
  • Muscle wasting
  • Weight loss

Malabsorption can affect growth and development, or it can lead to specific illnesses.

 

Exams and Tests

 

  • Blood and urine tests
  • CT scan of the abdomen
  • Hydrogen breath test
  • Schilling test for vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Secretin stimulation test
  • Small bowel biopsy
  • Stool culture or culture of small intestine aspirate
  • Stool fat testing (See: Quantitative stool fat test)
  • X-rays of the small bowel or other imaging tests

 

Treatment

 

Vitamin and nutrient replacement is often necessary.

 

Outlook (Prognosis)

 

The outlook depends on the condition causing malabsorption.

 

Possible Complications

 

Long-term malabsorption can result in:

  • Anemia
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney stones
  • Osteoporosis and bone disease
  • Malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Call your health care provider if you notice symptoms of malabsorption.

 

Prevention

 

Preventive methods depend on the condition causing malabsorption.

 

 

References

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 142.

Hogenauer C, Hammer HF. Maldigestion and malabsorption. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 101.

BACK TO TOP

 
  • Digestive system

    Digestive system

    illustration

  • Cystic fibrosis

    Cystic fibrosis

    illustration

  • Digestive system organs

    Digestive system organs

    illustration

    • Digestive system

      Digestive system

      illustration

    • Cystic fibrosis

      Cystic fibrosis

      illustration

    • Digestive system organs

      Digestive system organs

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Tests for Malabsorption

       
         

        Review Date: 8/10/2012

        Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

        The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
        adam.com

         
         
         

         

         

        A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and Google Chrome browser.