Malabsorption Syndrome

Malabsorption Syndrome Image

Malabsorption is the inability to absorb nutrients in the intestine. This condition can be caused by a variety of diseases or conditions, including:

  • cystic fibrosis
  • lactose intolerance
  • pernicious anemia
  • tropical sprue
  • Whipple ‘s disease
  • Bassen-Kornzweig syndrome
  • biliary atresia
  • celiac disease
  • intestinal parasites
  • pancreatitis
  • Shwachman-Diamond syndrome.

Malabsorption leads to slow growth and development and failure to thrive in babies and infants.

Malabsorption may not mean the incomplete absorption of all nutrients in foods eaten. Many causes of malabsorption result in the insufficient absorption of only specific nutrients, such as vitamin B12, fats or calcium.

Symptoms of Malabsorption

Symptoms vary according to the cause of the malabsorption, although some symptoms seem to be common to all causes of malabsorption. Some common malabsorption symptoms include:

  • diarrhea
  • slow growth and development (failure to thrive in children)
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • bloating and gas.

Consequences of Malabsorption

While malabsorption is a serious problem in all people, it is especially serious in newborn babies, infants and children. Babies, infants and children are still developing, and adequate nutrition is vital to proper growth and development. If malabsorption, and consequently malnutrition, occurs, growth will not occur at the regular pace, and permanent disabilities related to growth and development may result.

In adults, malabsorption can lead to malnutrition that may result in other diseases or conditions, including osteoporosis and anemia.

Diagnosing Malabsorption

Various tests are available to diagnose malabsorption.

  • Stool examination: People suffering from malabsorption often have high fat content in their stools. Also, stools provide evidence of undigested food.
  • Absorption tests: Blood tests measuring various levels of nutrients are taken to determine whether absorption is taking place. In general, various levels of specific substances such as glucose in the blood increase after eating if proper digestion and absorption occur.
  • X-rays: X-rays of the intestine may be taken to determine whether the intestine is damaged, or if blockages are present that may inhibit absorption.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy of the intestine may be taken to determine whether the intestine is damaged, or whether bacteria are causing the problem.

This section is divided into multiple articles addressing conditions in which malabsorption occurs, including lactose intolerance and cystic fibrosis.


Beers, M.H.