Malabsorption is when the body has trouble absorbing certain vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, or fats even though food is digested.
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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:
Factors that may increase your chance of malabsorption include:
Malabsorption may cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids, waste products, and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with x-rays.
Your pancreas may be tested. This can be done with a pancreatic function test.
In some people, the specific underlying condition must be treated in order to reverse the malabsorption. Other conditions cannot always be treated such as cystic fibrosis, short bowel, or pancreatic insufficiency.
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 by IV.
American College of Gastroenterology
National Organization for Rare Disorders
Abdullah M, Firmansyah MA. Clinical approach and management of chronic diarrhea. Acta Med Indones. 2013;45(2):157-165.
Bacterial overgrowth syndrome. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal_disorders/malabsorption_syndromes/bacterial_overgrowth_syndrome.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed June 19, 2014.
Chronic diarrhea. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 16, 2014. Accessed June 19, 2014.
Diarrheal diseases—acute and chronic. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at: http://patients.gi.org/topics/diarrhea-acute-and-chronic. Updated December 2012. Accessed July 19, 2014.
Overview of malabsorption. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal_disorders/malabsorption_syndromes/overview_of_malabsorption.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed July 19, 2014.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, 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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