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Intestinal Lymphangiectasia

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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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 intestines are where food is absorbed.

What is intestinal lymphangiectasia?

"Lymph" refers to the lymphatic system. 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.

"Angiectasia" means large or distended vessels.

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.

  • 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 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 supplements of calcium, vitamins, and certain kinds of fats that aren't absorbed through the intestines

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

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