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Malabsorption

Definition

Malabsorption is difficulty absorbing nutrients from food.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

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:

Vitamin B12 malabsorption may be due to:

Symptoms

  • 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.

Signs and tests

Treatment

Vitamin and nutrient replacement is often necessary.

Expectations (prognosis)

The outlook depends on the condition causing malabsorption.

Complications

Long-term malabsorption can result in:

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you notice symptoms of malabsorption.

Prevention

Preventive methods depend on the condition causing malabsorption.

References

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: 7/7/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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