Malabsorption Syndrome Overview
Malabsorption syndrome is the incapability to absorb nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from the intestinal area into the bloodstream.
Causes of Malabsorption Syndrome
Many things can cause malabsorption syndrome, from sure illnesses to infections to birth defects.
- Diseases that touch the intestine itself, such as celiac disease.
- Absenteeism or low levels of certain digestive enzymes.
- Illnesses of the pancreas, such as chronic pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis.
- Diseases caused by parasites, such as giardiasis or worms.
- Variations in the bacteria normally found in the intestinal tract.
- Surgery, such as gallbladder removal, alters or reduces the length of the intestinal tract.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Factors that can cause malabsorption syndrome include:
- Damage to the intestine from infection, inflammation, trauma, or surgery.
- Long-term use of antibiotics
- Other conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, chronic pancreatitis, or cystic fibrosis
- Lactase deficiency or lactose intolerance
- Certain birth defects or birth defects, such as biliary atresia, when the bile ducts do not develop normally and prevent the flow of bile from the liver
- Diseases of the gallbladder, liver, or pancreas
- Parasitic diseases
- Radiation therapy, which can damage the lining of the intestine
The syndrome can also be due to digestive problems. Your stomach may not be able to make the enzymes it needs to digest certain foods. Or your body may not be able to mix the food you eat with the enzymes and acid your stomach produces.
Rare causes of Malabsorption Syndrome
Some rare disorders can lead to malabsorption. One of these is called small bowel syndrome (SBS).
With SBS, the small intestine is shortened. This makes the intestine less able to absorb nutrients. SBS can be a birth defect or it can be caused by surgery.
Certain diseases can cause malabsorption. These include tropical sprue, a condition more common in the Caribbean, India, and other parts of Southeast Asia. This disease can be related to environmental factors, such as toxins in food, infections, or parasites. An even rarer potential cause of malabsorption is Whipple’s disease, which is the consequence of a bacterial infection.
Malabsorption syndrome symptoms
Malabsorption causes abdominal discomfort, including gas and bloating. Other symptoms you may have:
- Frequent diarrhea
- Loose, foul-smelling stools
- Light-coloured or bulky stools
- Stools that are difficult to remove because they float or stick to the toilet bowl
- Scaly skin rashes
- Gas, bloating, and vague abdominal discomfort.
- Frequent diarrhea and foul-smelling stools.
Chronic (or ongoing) diarrhea is a very shared sign of malabsorption. See your doctor if you have symptoms. Your physician can evaluate your symptoms to control the cause and recommend treatment. Treatment may include a special diet, medications to replace intestinal enzymes or reduce spasms, and vitamin or mineral supplements, such as B12 and iron.
Malabsorption Syndrome Diagnosis
The diagnosis is usually clinically evident from a detailed history of the patient.
- Blood tests to detect the consequences of malabsorption.
- Stool fat test to confirm malabsorption (if unclear)
- Cause diagnosed with endoscopy, contrast X-rays, or other tests based on the findings.
Malabsorption is supposed in a patient with chronic diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia. The etiology is sometimes obvious. For example, patients with malabsorption due to chronic pancreatitis have generally had previous episodes of acute pancreatitis. Patients with celiac disease may have classic lifelong diarrhea made worse by gluten products and may have dermatitis herpetiformis. Patients with cirrhosis and pancreatic cancer may have jaundice. Bloating, excessive flatus and watery diarrhea that occur 30 to 90 minutes after carbohydrate ingestion suggest deficiency of a disaccharidase enzyme, usually lactase. Previous extensive abdominal operations suggest short bowel syndrome.
If the history suggests a specific cause, testing should target that condition (see Figure: Suggested Assessment for Malabsorption). If there is no apparent cause, blood tests can be used as screening tools (eg, complete blood count, red blood cell indices, ferritin, vitamin B12, folic acid, calcium, albumin, cholesterol, prothrombin time). Test results can suggest a diagnosis and lead to further investigation.
Malabsorption Syndrome Treatment
Treatment options depend on the underlying cause. For example, doctors will treat malabsorption caused by lactose intolerance differently than malabsorption due to liver disease. Initially, a doctor may recommend that a person avoid the type of food that is causing the malabsorption, such as foods that contain lactose or gluten. The doctor can evaluate the nutrients present in this type of food and make recommendations on supplementation as a means of improving nutritional intake.
A doctor can also make recommendations to replace missing enzymes or prescribe medications to increase appetite. People may also choose to meet with a listed dietitian to establish a diet that is nutritious but is less likely to cause unpleasant symptoms related to malabsorption.
A medic is likely to recommend frequent follow-up appointments to assess the effectiveness of the treatment and make new commendations if necessary.
Malabsorption syndrome risk factors
Because malabsorption syndrome is an umbrella term for other disorders and conditions, it is difficult to determine risk factors for a particular patient. However, speaking very broadly, a family history of malabsorption or cystic fibrosis problems is perhaps the most important risk factor. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol should also be mentioned as this profoundly impairs liver function and can prevent nutrients from reaching the bloodstream. Other risk factors include travel abroad to the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, or India, overuse of laxatives or mineral oil, or bowel surgery (and its complications).
Patients may also want to be aware of a family history of gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (both known collectively as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Complications of malabsorption syndrome
If your body doesn’t get the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to stay strong and thrive, you could run into serious complications. When left untreated, malabsorption syndrome can lead to:
- Increased chance of infections.
- Osteoporosis (low bone density), which increases the risk of bone fractures.
- Slower weight gains and growth in children.
Sure nutrients, such as vitamin A and zinc, are vital for a fit immune system and proper growth. If your body is not absorbing these and other important vitamins and minerals, your health may suffer.