(Malabsorption Syndrome)

Pronounced: Mal-ab-sorp-shun


Malabsorption is when the body has trouble absorbing certain nutrients. Not getting enough nutrients from food can cause problems. These problems can happen even when someone is eating as they should.

The Intestines

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The liver makes a fluid called bile. It helps break down food in the intestines. The pancreas also makes an enzyme. The freed nutrients can then pass into the bloodstream through the wall of the intestine. Malabsorption may be caused by problems:

  • That make it hard for the intestines to pass nutrients such as Crohn disease or celiac disease
  • With the pancreas
  • With the liver
  • Breaking down food
  • With muscle movement in the bowels

Risk Factors

Your chances of malabsorption are higher for:

  • Having any of the problems listed above
  • Using laxatives
  • Using antibiotics
  • Prior surgery on the intestines
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Travel to countries that put you at risk for an infection from a parasite


Malabsorption may cause:

  • Weight loss
  • Bloating and swelling in the belly
  • Diarrhea
  • as

  • Bulky, foul-smelling stools
  • Weak muscles
  • Feeling tired


You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

You may need:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool tests
  • Urine tests
  • Hydrogen breath test
  • Small bowel biopsy
  • X-rays
  • A test to see how your pancreas works


Treatment depends on the cause. Sometimes, it will fix any problems with malabsorption.

You may need to make up for lost nutrients. This can be done with food or supplements. . You may need to eat more vitamins, minerals, fats, or proteins. In some cases, nutrients may be given by IV.

A dietitian will be able to help you.


There is no way to prevent malabsorption because it depends on the cause.


American College of Gastroenterology
NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders


Canadian Association of Gastroenterology


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Chronic diarrhea. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated July 1, 2016. Accessed August 13, 2018.
Diarrheal diseases—acute and chronic. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at:
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Overview of malabsorption. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated February 2018. Accessed August 13, 2018.
Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 8/13/2018

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