Illnesses & Infections
Updated on 23 May 2023
The human body needs nutrients to facilitate repair, growth and perform different life processes. Herein, the small intestine plays an integral role in absorbing nutrients. However, sometimes the body cannot absorb certain macro and micronutrients, leading to malabsorption. Several causes can lead to the condition, including damage to the small intestine lining and more.
This article elaborates on the malabsorption syndrome definition, its causes, symptoms and treatment.
Malabsorption is caused due to the body's inability to absorb nutrients from food in the small intestine or colon. Instead, the unabsorbed nutrients get eliminated in faeces. They may have a variety of causes ranging from enzyme deficiencies, damage of the lining in the small intestine, a side-effect of medications, cystic fibrosis, etc.
Malabsorption affects the body's ability to absorb all or specific nutrients thrown out in stools. Individuals with malabsorption syndrome often experience side effects like diarrhoea or gastrointestinal distress, leading to fast moving out of food through the bowels and obstructing the absorption of nutrients.
Over time, the patient may show malabsorption symptoms of nutrient deficiency, including macronutrients (protein, fats, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Lack of these nutrients may affect eyes, skin, bones and hair in addition to conditions like muscle atrophy and reduced immunity.
The form of malabsorption depends mainly on the nutrients the body cannot absorb. These include:
Gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease are common malabsorption syndrome causes.
occurs when the small intestine cannot absorb fats and pass them to the colon, causing Steatorrhea (fatty stools). It also causes fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, D, and K malabsorption.
Occurs in people sensitive to sugars causing gas pain and abdominal bloating. Herein, the carbohydrates are not fully absorbed in the small intestine and cause bacteria fermentation in the colon that breaks down into short-chain fatty acids and gasses.
Occurs in people with gluten or milk protein intolerance
Results due to lack of bile from diseases of bile ducts, liver or gall bladder, often causing chronic diarrhoea.
It is important to note that the symptoms of malabsorption may differ according to the nutrients, such as proteins, vitamins, sugars and fats that are not absorbed. These include:
The most common malabsorption causes include:
Malabsorption syndrome occurs due to the body's inability to absorb nutrients from food. The risk factors include:
It may also increase the risk of developing specific mineral and vitamin deficiencies like vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron. In severe cases, it leads to organ damage and can threaten life.
The healthcare provider may evaluate malabsorption syndrome by examining a few symptoms, diagnosing the process, and asking questions about health history. They will check for symptoms like chronic diarrhoea, anaemia, muscle wastage, fatty stools, and malnutrition.
Based on the symptoms of malabsorption, the medical professional will suggest appropriate tests to confirm the condition.
There are several invasive and non-invasive tests performed to diagnose malabsorption syndrome, which include:
Malabsorption treatment will depend on the underlying reason. Common treatments include:
The doctor may suggest medicines like loperamide to manage symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhoea
Malabsorption is a chronic condition that may not go away entirely. However, it can be controlled by proper malabsorption treatments to reduce symptoms. If the underlying reason for the condition is parasite infection or celiac disease, it can be resolved. However, in the case of conditions like cystic fibrosis or genetic disorders, they cannot be cured.
Malabsorption may be temporarily caused due to stomach flu. Other causes of malabsorption syndrome include damage of the lining in the small intestine, pancreas, liver or gallbladder diseases, lymphatic diseases, or intolerance to certain foods.
Malabsorption stool appears bulky, greasy, and loose, accompanied by a foul smell.
Chronic diarrhoea is a classic symptom of malabsorption followed by Steatorrhea.
If left untreated, the patient may show signs of undernutrition, including reduced immunity and muscle wasting.
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