is when the body is not able to get the nutrients it needs from food.
Although food is digested, the body has trouble absorbing certain vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, or fats. The condition
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Malabsorption is associated with a number of diseases that affect the intestines or other areas of the gastrointestinal tract such as: Lactose intoleranceCeliac diseaseIntestinal parasitesHIV/AIDS, cancer, or treatment for those diseases
or other bacterial infections
Inadequate digestion due to:
Bacterial overgrowth syndromeGastric resection
(removal of all or part of the stomach)Inadequate function of the pancreasExcessive production of gastric acidShort bowel syndrome
or previous bowel resection
Factors that may increase your chance of having malabsorption include: Medical conditions affecting the intestine, such as celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, or Crohns diseaseUse of laxativesExcessive use of antibioticsIntestinal surgery
Excessive use of
alcoholTravel to countries with high incidence of intestinal parasites
Malabsorption may cause: Weight lossAbdominal distention and bloatingDiarrheaFlatulenceBulky, foul-smelling stoolsWeakness and fatigueSwelling or fluid retentionMuscle wasting
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include: Blood test for low levels of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrientsX-rays
biopsyA 72-hour stool collection to test for excess fatPancreatic function testD-Xylose absorption test checks for abnormality in intestinal absorptionHydrogen breath test to measures how well lactose is being digested
The specific underlying condition must be treated in order to reverse the malabsorption.
Depending on the cause and severity of the malabsorption, you may need to make up for nutritional deficiencies by consuming additional nutrients through foods or supplements. A diet rich in vitamins and minerals along with increased quantities of fat, protein, or carbohydrate may be required. Nutrient supplementation may include folate, iron, and vitamin B12. In some cases, nutrients may be given intravenously.
Conditions that cause malabsorption need to be managed. Work with your doctor and follow the recommended treatment plan to decrease malabsorption complications.
Abdullah M, Firmansyah MA. Clinical approach and management of chronic diarrhea.
Acta Med Indones. 2013;45(2):157-165.
Function studies: Malabsorption tests. Medical University of South Carolina website. Available at:
http://www.ddc.musc.edu/ddc_pub/patientInfo/tests-treatments/diagnostic/functionStudies.html. Updated February 18, 2013. Accessed July 19, 2013.
Last reviewed July 2013 by Daus Mahnke, MD; Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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