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Intestinal Lymphangiectasia


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
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Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the tube that goes from your mouth to your anus. The GI tract includes your esophagus (food pipe), stomach, and the small and large intestines. Your small intestines are where food is absorbed.

The Small Intestine

What is intestinal lymphangiectasia?

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels throughout the body. These vessels drain out excess fluid, dead cells, and germs. Lymph vessels in your intestines help absorb fat and protein from your diet.

Intestinal lymphangiectasia is a condition of abnormal, enlarged lymph vessels in your small intestines. The lymph vessels are enlarged because they are blocked. The lymph vessel blockage stops your small intestines from absorbing most fats and proteins. Not absorbing nutrients is called malabsorption Overview of Malabsorption Food you eat has to be digested before it can go into your body. Digestion breaks food down into its separate parts: Proteins Fats Carbohydrates Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are nutrients... read more .

  • You can be born with intestinal lymphangiectasia, or it can develop in adulthood from complications of other disorders

  • Symptoms include diarrhea that's greasy and smelly and swelling of your legs

  • Children born with intestinal lymphangiectasia will not grow normally and be short and underweight

  • Doctor treat the cause of the problem if possible

  • To help with your symptoms, you can eat less fat and more protein and take supplements

What causes intestinal lymphangiectasia?

The main cause in babies and children is:

  • Being born with lymph vessels that didn’t form properly

Adults may develop intestinal lymphangiectasia if they have:

  • Cancers or other disorders that block the lymph vessels in their belly

What are the symptoms of intestinal lymphangiectasia?

Symptoms include:

  • Swelling in one or both legs

  • Diarrhea

  • Feeling sick to your stomach and throwing up

  • Fatty stools

  • Belly pain

  • Slower growth in children

How can doctors tell if I have intestinal lymphangiectasia?

Doctors do tests including:

  • Biopsy from your small intestine

  • Sometimes contrast lymphangiography

With a small intestine biopsy, doctors take a small sample of tissue using instruments on the end of an endoscope (a flexible viewing tube). Then they look at the sample under a microscope.

With contrast lymphangiography, doctors take x-rays of all your lymph vessels after injecting a liquid contrast agent X-rays with a radiopaque contrast agent X-rays are a type of medical imaging that use very low-dose radiation waves to take pictures of bones and soft tissues. X-rays may be used alone (conventional x-ray imaging) or combined with... read more into lymph vessels in your foot. The contrast agent makes all your lymph vessels show up on x-rays.

Doctors will also do blood tests to look for complications.

How do doctors treat intestinal lymphangiectasia?

Doctors treat the cause of intestinal lymphangiectasia if possible.

You can make your symptoms better by:

  • Eating a low-fat, high-protein diet

  • Taking calcium supplements and vitamins

  • Taking certain kinds of fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that are small enough to be absorbed directly through the intestines and don't pass into the lymphatic system

Sometimes surgery on the intestines or the blocked lymph vessels can help.

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