Malabsorption is when the body has trouble absorbing certain vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, or fats from food even when someone is eating properly.
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During normal digestion, the liver creates a fluid called bile that helps break down food in the intestines. The pancreas also creates an enzyme that helps break food down into usable nutrients. The freed nutrients can then pass through the walls of the intestine and into the bloodstream. Malabsorption may be caused by a problem with any of these digestive steps such as:
Factors that may increase your chance of malabsorption include:
Malabsorption may cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids, waste products, and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with x-rays.
Your pancreas may be tested. This can be done with a pancreatic function test.
In some people, the specific underlying condition must be treated in order to reverse the malabsorption. Other conditions cannot always be treated such as cystic fibrosis, short bowel, or pancreatic insufficiency.
Depending on the cause and severity of the malabsorption, you may need to make up for nutritional deficiencies by consuming additional nutrients through foods or supplements. A diet rich in vitamins and minerals along with increased quantities of fat, protein, or carbohydrate may be required. Nutrient supplementation may include folate, iron, and vitamin B12. In some cases, nutrients may be given by IV.
Conditions that cause malabsorption need to be recognized and managed. Work with your doctor and follow the recommended treatment plan to decrease malabsorption complications.
American College of Gastroenterology
National Organization for Rare Disorders
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Last reviewed June 2016 by Daus Mahnke, MD Last Updated: 1/20/2017