The body requires a multitude of nutrients to function. These nutrients, in all their forms, are contained in the daily diet. Ordinarily, the body is extremely efficient at processing and absorbing these nutrients to fuel all of its needs. Yet, some conditions such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease compromise this process.
Malabsorption refers to the inability of the small intestine to absorb nutrients. Malabsorption can be due to damage to the intestinal lining such as in celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, radiation or chronic infections such as Whipples Disease or tropical sprue. It can also occur in diseases in which the body cannot absorb nutrients due to enzyme or protein deficiencies. Examples of this would include lactose intolerance, pernicious anemia with B12 deficiency or pancreatic insufficiency.
Some diseases and conditions only result in malabsorption of certain nutrients, such as protein. This type of malabsorption is called selective (or partial). Other diseases cause what is categorized as total malabsorption. The basic nutrient components impacted by total malabsorption include macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) and micronutrients (trace vitamins and minerals).
The symptoms of malabsorption can range from nonexistent to minor to severe. They include:
- Abdominal bloating and gas
- Chronic diarrhea (the most common symptom)
- Dry hair or hair loss
- Excessive fat in the stools (steatorrhea)
- Fluid retention
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle cramps, weakness or wasting
- Vitamin deficiencies (e.g., vitamin A, B12, D, K)
- Weight loss
Diagnosis of malabsorption consists of:
- Blood tests to screen for consequences of malabsorption
- Stool fat testing to confirm malabsorption (if unclear)
- Having the root cause diagnosed with endoscopy, contrast X-rays or other tests based on findings
Remedies for malabsorption depend on the cause of the condition. These remedies range from gluten or lactose-free diets, possible vitamin or mineral supplementation, anti-inflammatory medications or antibiotics to counter bacterial overgrowth.
Meet the Malabsorption Specialists
At Digestive Healthcare Center, we diagnose and treat malabsorption by getting to the root of its cause. Our physicians and staff recognize the challenges it presents, offering expert and compassionate care.