Malabsorption is difficulty 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:
AIDS and HIV
- 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)
- Chronic liver disease
- Cow's milk protein intolerance
- Damage from radiation treatments
- Parasite infection, including
- Soy milk protein intolerance
Vitamin B12 malabsorption may be due to:
- Bowel resection
- Tapeworm infection (diphyllobothrium latum)
- 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
- 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
Vitamin and nutrient replacement is often necessary.
The outlook depends on the condition causing malabsorption.
Long-term malabsorption can result in:
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.
Preventive methods depend on the condition causing malabsorption.