Definition

What is Malabsorption Syndrome?

Malabsorption syndrome is the poor absorption of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream.

How common is Malabsorption Syndrome?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Malabsorption Syndrome?

The common symptoms of Malabsorption Syndrome are:

  • Abdominal discomfort, including gas and bloating
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Bad-smelling and loose stool
  • Stools that are light in color or bulky
  • Stools that are hard to flush away because they float or stick to the toilet bowl
  • Weight loss
  • Scaly skin rashes

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes Malabsorption Syndrome?

Normally, you absorb most of your nutrients into your bloodstream through the wall of your small intestine as partially digested food works its way through your digestive system. (You absorb the rest of your nutrients through the large intestine.)

Your blood then carries nutrients, such as calcium or protein, to your bones, muscles, and organs. You expel what’s left over through your rectum when you go to the bathroom.

Several medical conditions can interfere with that process.

Infections from bacteria, viruses, or parasites can damage your intestinal wall so that digested substances can’t get through. You then lose those nutrients through your stool when you go to the bathroom.

Some of the other causes of malabsorption include:

  • Cystic fibrosis and other diseases that affect the pancreas
  • Lactose intolerance or other enzyme-related conditions
  • Intestinal disorders such as celiac disease (when the gluten protein from wheat, barley, and rye triggers your immune system to attack your body)

Some of these causes make more sense when you consider how they affect your digestive system.

For example, surgery that removes part of the small intestine means you have less surface area in your remaining small intestine to absorb nutrients.

And celiac disease may injure the walls of your intestinal tract, making it harder for nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Malabsorption Syndrome?

There are many risk factors for Malabsorption Syndrome, such as:

  • A family history of cystic fibrosis or malabsorption
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • Intestinal surgery
  • Use of certain medications, including laxatives or mineral oil
  • Travel to the caribbean, India, and other parts of Southeast Asia

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is Malabsorption Syndrome diagnosed?

When your doctor suspects malabsorption syndrome, she will need to know your symptoms and the foods you eat.

Your doctor may do several tests to find the cause of the problem. They include:

  • Stool test: Too much fat in your stool could mean malabsorption.
  • Lactose hydrogen breath test: A doctor can see how well you absorb nutrients by measuring how much hydrogen is in your breath after you drink a milk sugar (lactose) solution.
  • Sweat test: Studying a sample of sweat can help diagnose cystic fibrosis. One of the effects of that disease is a lack of enzymes to properly digest food.
  • Biopsy of small intestine: A small tissue sample is taken from inside the small intestine and studied to see whether it shows signs of infection or other problems.
  • Endoscopy: A doctor uses a long, flexible tube with a camera to check out your intestines.

How is Malabsorption Syndrome treated?

Your doctor will likely start your treatment by addressing symptoms such as diarrhea. Medications such as loperamide can help.

Your doctor will also want to replace the nutrients and fluids that your body has been unable to absorb. And they may monitor you for signs of dehydration, which can include increased thirst, low urine output, and dry mouth, skin, or tongue.

Next, your doctor will provide care based on the cause of the absorption problem. For instance, if you’re found to have lactose intolerance, your doctor will likely advise you to avoid milk and other dairy products or take a lactase enzyme tablet.

At this point, your doctor may refer you to a dietitian. Your dietitian will create a treatment plan that will help make sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs. Your dietitian may recommend:

  • Enzyme supplements: These supplements can help your body absorb the nutrients it can’t absorb on its own. Find a great selection of enzyme supplements here.
  • Vitamin supplements: Your dietitian may recommend high doses of vitamins or other nutrients to make up for those that are not being absorbed by your intestine.
  • Diet changes: Your dietitian may adjust your diet to increase or decrease certain foods or nutrients. For instance, you may be advised to avoid foods high in fat to decrease diarrhea, and increase foods high in potassium to help balance your electrolytes.

Your doctor and your dietitian can help create a treatment plan that will manage your malabsorption symptoms and allow your body to obtain the nutrients and fluids it needs to function normally.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Malabsorption Syndrome?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you lower your risk of developing Malabsorption Syndrome:

Malabsorption syndrome can’t always be prevented, especially if you have celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, or other chronic conditions. A chronic condition is one that is ongoing and lasts a long time, from several months to a lifetime.

But you should work closely with your doctor to manage these diseases as much as possible. You should use laxatives and antibiotics carefully and only when necessary.

If you are put on a special diet rich in the nutrients your body needs, be sure to ask your doctor, nurse, or dietitian any questions.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: May 22, 2018 | Last Modified: May 22, 2018

Want to live your best life?
Get the Hello Doktor Daily newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.