Malabsorption is difficulty digesting or absorbing nutrients from food.
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:
- Certain medications (cholestryramine, 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)
- Chronic liver disease
- Cow's milk protein intolerance
- Damage from radiation treatments
- Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (a genetic disease affecting the pancreas and bone marrow)
- Soy milk protein intolerance
Vitamin B12 malabsorption may be due to:
Malabsorption of vitamins can occur even without diarrhea.
- Bloating, cramping, and gas
- Bulky stools
- Chronic diarrhea
Failure to thrive
- Fatty stools (steatorrhea)
- Muscle wasting
- Weight loss
Malabsorption can affect growth and development, or it can lead to specific illnesses.
The outlook depends on the condition causing malabsorption.
Call your health care provider if you notice symptoms of malabsorption.
Long-term malabsorption can result in:
Vitamin and nutrient replacement is often necessary.
Preventive methods depend on the condition causing malabsorption.
Semrad CE, Powell DW. Approach to the Patient with Diarrhea and Malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 143.
Review Date: 8/22/2008
Reviewed By: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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