Malabsorption syndrome is a group of condition where the small intestine is unable to absorb enough nutrients into the bloodstream from the food that you eat. It causes excessive defecation, nutritional deficiency, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Malabsorption syndrome is a group of condition where the small intestine is unable to absorb enough nutrients into the bloodstream from the food that you eat. The nutrients that the small intestine has problem absorbing are macronutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, or micronutrients like vitamins and minerals or both. Malabsorption can be total, where absorption of all nutrients is impaired, or partial, where only specific nutrients are not absorbed. It causes excessive defecation, nutritional deficiency, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Digestion involves mechanical process and enzymatic hydrolysis to break down the food. The mechanical process includes chewing, churning and to and fro mixing of the food in the stomach and small intestine. Enzymatic hydrolysis is achieved by gastric, pancreatic, and biliary secretions. The final products of digestion are then absorbed by the epithelial cells of the small intestine. Any alteration or pathological interference in the above stages causes malabsorption, as it disturbs the typical sequence of digestion, absorption, and transport of nutrients.
The main cause of is some defect or damage to the mucosal lining of the small intestine. It can broadly be classified into premucosal, mucosal, and postmucosal malabsorption.
The small intestine can also get damaged by the following:
Once the lining gets damaged, the nutrients are not absorbed and they pass through your stool.
The symptoms depend on the nutrient that is not being absorbed into the body. The other symptoms are as a result of that specific nutrient deficiency. The general symptoms are
The risk factors include:
If you are suffering from persistent diarrhea or deficiency even after consuming a healthy diet, your doctor will perform specific tests to diagnose your condition. They will also look for the diseases that might cause impaired absorption. These tests include:
The treatment depends on the cause.
If you or your child have any of the sign or symptom of malabsorption, like diarrhea from a long time, it is best you consult your physician and get tested right away. Lack of essential nutrients will prevent healthy growth and development of your child. The earlier you recognize the signs and get treated, the less will be the permanent damage to your body.
Yes, mild cases of malabsorption can be cured. Treatment of malabsorption syndrome primarily depends on the cause. It includes the addition of a special diet that is capable of getting easily digested and absorbed in the gut. The affected individuals can be provided with supplements as compensation to nutrients that are not being absorbed well normally.
When patients are diagnosed with fat malabsorption, they are often noted to lose weight in spite of adequate intake of food. Chronic diarrhea has been noted as the most common symptom in the evaluation of these patients. These patients will also have steatorrhea, which is nothing but a fatty stool. It is the hallmark symptom of malabsorption syndrome. These stools are foul-smelling, pale, bulky, and greasy in appearance.
Yes, Crohn's disease belongs to malabsorption syndrome. In Crohn's disease, the small intestine lacks the ability to absorb nutrients properly. This results in malabsorption. The reason behind this is the inflamed intestinal tract with Crohn's disease.
The following are the foods that are most commonly associated with malabsorption of food:
- Dairy products.
- Gluten-containing foods.
- Foods that can cause intestinal gas build-ups.
Low blood levels of carotene can suggest a deficiency in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. It can also indicate the dietary deficiency of these vitamins. Vitamin B12 and folate levels are the nutrients that are chiefly low in the patients affected by malabsorption syndrome.
Yes, probiotic supplements can help in treating malabsorption. This is because probiotic supplements are noted to have lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacterium in them. These bacteria effectively support beneficial microbes, especially in the small intestine, by promoting barrier integrity. By doing so, it is noted to treat malabsorption significantly.
Yes, malabsorption can be triggered by stress. This is because stress is capable of affecting digestion. In normal patients, the intestines are physiologically coded to have a tight barrier in order to protect the body from food-related to bacterial infections. Stress can make a decrease in the strength of the intestinal barrier. This can lead to malabsorption in certain individuals.
A number of factors related to inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease can contribute to malabsorption development. A persistent, chronic inflammation of the small intestinal lining in people affected with small bowel Crohn's disease can often lead to the damage of the intestinal lining. This can, in turn, lead to malabsorption.
Since malabsorption primarily causes diarrhea, it can consume a lot of energy. On the other hand, malabsorption also prevents the body from absorbing the essential vitamins and nutrients that are needed to make energy. Thus, due to all these factors there is loss of energy and fatigueness.
Persistent steatorrhea occurs as a result of diseases of the biliary tract, pancreas, or intestine. Fat absorption is primarily dependent upon bile, pancreatic lipases, and normal intestine function. Any problem in these functions can lead to malabsorption.
You can fix malabsorption with the help of a dietician. They might provide you the following.
- Enzyme supplements help your body absorb the nutrients that cannot be absorbed on its own.
- Vitamin supplements.
- Dietary changes to avoid foods that trigger malabsorption.
When a normal person intakes a healthy meal, it is expected that your body will use the benefits of the vitamins and minerals from that food. But in a person affected with malabsorption syndrome, their body will not be able to absorb nutrients from the food they eat. This digestive issue can cause symptoms of bloating and diarrhea.
Yes, malabsorption can cause loss of weight. This is because malabsorption can lead to almost all deficiencies, such as fats, proteins, etc. Due to this reason, patients with malabsorption are usually noted to lose weight, and they have difficulty maintaining healthy body weight.
The appropriate diet in a person with malabsorption syndrome has to be customized based on its exact cause of malabsorption. The various diet modifications include:
- A gluten-free diet in patients with celiac disease.
- A lactose-free diet in patients with lactose intolerance.
- The use of protease and lipase supplements in patients with pancreatic insufficiency.
In the process of diagnosing a malabsorption syndrome, the primary tools are a detailed and thorough history and physical examination. In addition to the details collected from the history and physical examination, the doctor may also order several tests to find the exact cause of the problem. It includes:
- Complete blood count.
- Abdominal X-Ray.
- Stool test.
- Lactose hydrogen breath test:
By incorporating the following lifestyle changes, you can increase vitamin levels in a person with malabsorption syndrome:
Add a variety of foods in one meal. It should not include the foods that trigger your malabsorption.
- Add vitamin C-rich foods with iron supplements.
- Add healthy fats with your regular diet.
- Take a probiotic.
- Avoid drinking tea in-between meal times.
The following are the various types of malabsorption syndromes:
Digestive failure due to abdominal trauma or a chronic disease process.
- Bile acid or bile salt malabsorption.
- Bacterial overgrowth.
- Obstructive jaundice.
- Primary bile acid diarrhea.
- Crohn's disease.
- Carcinoma of pancreas.
- Chronic pancreatitis.
- Celiac disease.
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
The primary treatment of malabsorption includes consuming foods that trigger malabsorption. Diarrhea has to be treated with the help of antidiarrheals. Dehydration due to diarrhea has to be addressed through intravenous infusion of fluids and colloids. Definitive treatment would involve diet modifications and vitamins and enzyme supplements.
Last reviewed at:
10 Jan 2023 - 4 min read
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