Malabsorption is difficulty absorbing nutrients from food.
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:
Certain medications (cholestyramine, tetracycline, some antacids, some medications used to treat obesity, colchicine, acarbose, phenytoin)
Certain types of cancer (lymphoma,
pancreatic cancer, gastrinomas)
Certain types of surgery (
gastrectomywith gastrojejunostomy, surgical treatments for obesity, partial or complete removal of the ileum)
Chronic liver disease
Cow’s milk protein intolerance
- Damage from
- Parasite infection, including
- Soy milk protein intolerance
Vitamin B12 malabsorption may be due to:
- Bowel resection
- Tapeworm infection (such as
- 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.
Exams and Tests
Your doctor or nurse will examine you. Tests that may be done may include:
Blood and urine tests
CT scan of the abdomen
Hydrogen breath test
Schilling testfor vitamin B12 deficiency
Secretin stimulation test
Small bowel biopsy
Stool cultureor culture of small intestine aspirate
Stool fat testing (See:
Quantitative stool fat test)
X-rays of the small bowel or other imaging tests
Vitamin and nutrient replacement is often necessary.
The outlook depends on the condition causing malabsorption.
Long-term malabsorption can result in:
Gallstones Kidney stones
Osteoporosisand bone disease
Malnutritionand vitamin deficiencies
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you notice symptoms of malabsorption.
Preventive methods depend on the condition causing malabsorption.