Malabsorption is when the body has trouble absorbing certain vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, or fats even though food is digested.
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Malabsorption is associated with a number of diseases that affect the intestines or other areas of the gastrointestinal tract, 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
NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders
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Diarrheal diseases—acute and chronic. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at: http://patients.gi.org/topics/diarrhea-acute-and-chronic. Updated December 2012. Accessed July 19, 2014.
Overview of malabsorption. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal_disorders/malabsorption_syndromes/overview_of_malabsorption.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed July 19, 2014.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Daus Mahnke, MD Last Updated: 6/19/2014