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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.
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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:
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
- 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:
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.
American College of Gastroenterology
NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Abdullah M, Firmansyah MA. Clinical approach and management of chronic diarrhea. Acta Med Indones. 2013;45(2):157-165.
Bacterial overgrowth syndrome. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal%5Fdisorders/malabsorption%5Fsyndromes/bacterial%5Fovergrowth%5Fsyndrome.html. Updated February 2018. Accessed August 13, 2018.
Chronic diarrhea. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114891/Chronic-diarrhea . Updated July 1, 2016. Accessed August 13, 2018.
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 August 13, 2018.
Overview of malabsorption. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/malabsorption-syndromes/overview-of-malabsorption. Updated February 2018. Accessed August 13, 2018.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 05/2018
- Update Date: 08/13/2018