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, and carbohydrates are nutrients because they provide nutrition. Other nutrients are:
After food is digested, nutrients go into your body through the walls of your intestines. This is called absorption.
"Mal" means bad. So malabsorption means bad absorption. A problem somewhere in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract keeps you from absorbing one or more kinds of nutrients.
Malabsorption can be caused by diseases, surgery on your intestines, or intestinal infections
You'll usually lose weight and have diarrhea and smelly stool (poop)
After a while, you may get vitamin deficiencies, which may give you a low blood count and feel make you feel sick
Doctors often have to do stool and blood tests and sometimes look in your stomach and intestines with a flexible scope (endoscopy)
Different causes of malabsorption need different treatments, but doctors usually try to adjust your diet to relieve your symptoms
Two main problems cause malabsorption:
The most common symptom of malabsorption is:
You'll have lots of loose, oily stools that smell worse than usual.
Other symptoms include:
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause:
Low blood count (anemia)
Tingling of hands and feet
Doctors usually do:
If these tests show malabsorption, doctors then do tests to look for the cause. They may:
Look down your stomach and intestines with a flexible viewing scope (endoscopy)
Measure certain chemicals in your breath
Take x-rays after you swallow a liquid contrast agent
Treatment depends on the cause. Some malabsorption diseases have specific treatments. For example, tropical sprue and Whipple disease are treated with antibiotics.
In general, if you have trouble with only certain foods, doctors will have you avoid them. If you are missing certain digestive enzymes, sometimes you can take enzyme supplements. If you have a vitamin deficiency, you'll take extra vitamins.