About This Condition
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Malabsorption is a broad term used to describe the inability to absorb nutrients through the gut lining into the bloodstream.
Malabsorption is not a disease by itself, but rather the result of some other condition that is present. The small intestine (also called the small bowel) is typically involved in malabsorption, since the majority of nutrients are absorbed there. Malabsorption may affect one or more of the many nutrients present in the diet, including protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, and minerals.
There are over 100 different conditions that can lead to problems in absorbing food, most of which are rare. The degree of malabsorption depends on the type of underlying condition and the extent to which it has affected the gut. Some of the more common malabsorption syndromes are due to bacterial or Reference parasitic infections, Reference Crohn’s disease, Reference celiac disease, Reference ulcerative colitis, liver disease (including Reference cirrhosis, Reference hepatitis, and Reference gallstones), Reference cystic fibrosis, Reference lactose intolerance, chronic pancreatitis, specific medications that affect the intestines, or surgery of the stomach or bowels. The four conditions that most often lead to malabsorption in the United States are Reference lactose intolerance, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and chronic pancreatitis.1
Malabsorption may also occur when certain minerals present in the digestive tract in large amounts prevent adequate absorption of other minerals that are present in relatively small amounts. Minerals that may have this type of interaction include Reference calcium, Reference copper, Reference iron, Reference magnesium, Reference manganese, and Reference zinc.
People with malabsorption may have symptoms of frequent, loose, watery stools; pale, foul-smelling, bulky stools; abdominal pain, gas, and bloating; weight loss; fatigue; Reference canker sores; muscle cramps; delayed growth or short stature; bone and joint pain; seizures; painful skin rash; Reference night blindness; easy Reference bruising; and infertility. In addition to physical symptoms, there may be emotional disturbances, including feelings of Reference anxiety and Reference depression.
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1. Cotran RS, Kumar V, Robbins SL. Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease, 5th ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1994, 796–806.
Last Review: 11-07-2012
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2013.