What is malabsorption?

Malabsorption occurs when nutrients are not properly extracted and absorbed from food during the digestive process. This can result in a deficiency of vitamins, proteins, minerals, carbohydrates, and other nutrients that are important for growth and regulation of body systems.

Typically, during digestion, nutrients are extracted from food and absorbed by the small intestine. These nutrients are then carried through the bloodstream and into the tissues, muscles and organs to support their functions. In the case of malabsorption, there is a breakdown in this process in the intestine such that nutrients are not properly absorbed, but rather, excreted through the stool. Malabsorption may be temporary, for example, occurring in so-called stomach flu, when vomiting or diarrhea may prevent the efficient absorption of nutrients. This type of malabsorption goes away when the underlying disease resolves. However, chronic (long-lasting) cases of malabsorption are a cause for concern and should be evaluated immediately by a health care professional.

Symptoms associated with malabsorption include vomiting, nausea, bloating, chronic diarrhea, muscle wasting, and weight loss. Malabsorption occurring in children can limit their growth. Malabsorption can also lead to other illnesses caused by poor nutrition.

Malabsorption is a serious condition that can cause diarrhea or loose stools. Persistent diarrhea can result in dehydration, a potentially life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for symptoms of dehydration, including sunken eyes; lethargy; rapid heart rate; any change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; and loss of skin elasticity.

Seek prompt medical care if you or your child is being treated for malabsorption, but symptoms recur or persist.


What are the symptoms of malabsorption?

Symptoms of malabsorption not only affect the gastrointestinal system, but also the growth and development of your child. The depletion of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients can increase susceptibility to illnesses and disease, as well.

Gastrointestinal symptoms of malabsorption

The following gastrointestinal symptoms often occur in malabsorption:
Read more about malabsorptionsymptoms


What causes malabsorption?

A number of conditions are thought to cause malabsorption, although the exact cause is not known.

Common causes of malabsorption

Some of the causes of malabsorption include:

  • Biliary atresia (blockage of the ducts that transport bile from the liver to the gallbladder)
  • Bowel resection (partial removal for disease)
  • Cancers... Read more about malabsorptioncauses


How is malabsorption treated?

Treatment for malabsorption begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. He or she will evaluate you or your child for signs and symptoms of malnourishment and attempt to identify the cause. It may be that the diet does not provide enough nutrient-rich foods or that there are digestive issues that prevent absorption of nutrients.

Hospitalization may be required... Read more about malabsorptiontreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Food, Nutrition and Diet