Food you eat has to be digested before it can go into your body. Digestion breaks food down into its separate parts:
Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are nutrients because they provide nutrition. Other nutrients are:
Vitamins and minerals
After food is digested, nutrients go into your body through the walls of your intestines. This is called absorption.
Locating the Small Intestine
What is malabsorption?
Malabsorption means you don't properly take in (absord) nutrients from food. A problem somewhere in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract keeps you from absorbing one or more kinds of nutrients.
Malabsorption can be caused by diseases, surgery on your intestines, or intestinal infections
You'll usually lose weight and have diarrhea and smelly stool (poop)
After a while, you may get vitamin deficiencies Overview of Vitamins Vitamins are a vital part of a healthy diet. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA)—the amount most healthy people need each day to remain healthy—has been determined for most vitamins. A safe... read more , which may give you a low blood count and feel make you feel sick
Doctors often have to do stool and blood tests and sometimes look in your stomach and intestines with a flexible scope (endoscopy)
Different causes of malabsorption need different treatments, but doctors usually try to adjust your diet to relieve your symptoms
What causes malabsorption?
Two main problems cause malabsorption:
Food isn't digested properly
Your intestines can't absorb nutrients
What causes digestion problems?
You won't be able to digest food completely if:
Your pancreas Pancreas The pancreas is an organ that contains two types of glandular tissue: Pancreatic acini Islets of Langerhans (See also Overview of the Digestive System.) The acini produce digestive enzymes.... read more doesn't make enough digestive juices, such as occurs in pancreatitis Acute Pancreatitis Pancreatitis is inflammation (swelling) of your pancreas. Your pancreas is an organ in your upper belly that makes juices that help you digest food. Your pancreas also makes insulin, which helps... read more or cystic fibrosis Cystic Fibrosis Cystic fibrosis is a disease that is passed down through families (a hereditary disease). It makes fluids in your lungs, digestive system, and many other organs thick and sticky. Children with... read more
You don't have certain digestive enzymes in your intestines, such as in lactose intolerance Lactose Intolerance Lactose is a type of sugar that's in milk and dairy products. Lactase is an enzyme in your small intestines that digests lactose so your body can absorb it. Lactose intolerance happens when... read more
Why can't you absorb nutrients?
You have trouble absorbing nutrients if:
The lining of your intestines is damaged, such as in celiac disease Celiac Disease "Celiac" refers to things inside your belly, including your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your GI tract is the tube that goes from your mouth to your anus. The GI tract includes your esophagus... read more , tropical sprue Tropical Sprue Your small intestine is where food is absorbed. Malabsorption is when you have trouble absorbing the nutrients in your food. Nutrients are things that provide nutrition to your body. They include... read more , or Whipple disease Whipple Disease Your small intestine is where food is absorbed. Malabsorption is when you have trouble absorbing the nutrients in your food. Nutrients are things that provide nutrition to your body. They include... read more
What are the symptoms of malabsorption?
The most common symptom of malabsorption is:
You'll have lots of loose, oily stools that smell worse than usual.
Other symptoms include:
Feeling gassy and bloated
For women, stopped periods
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause:
Tingling of hands and feet
How do doctors diagnose malabsorption?
Doctors usually do:
Stool tests to look for unabsorbed fat
If these tests show malabsorption, doctors then do tests to look for the cause. They may:
Look down your stomach and intestines with a flexible viewing scope (endoscopy)
Measure certain chemicals in your breath
How do doctors treat malabsorption?
Treatment depends on the cause. Some malabsorption diseases have specific treatments. For example, tropical sprue and Whipple disease are treated with antibiotics.
In general, if you have trouble with only certain foods, doctors will have you avoid them. If you are missing certain digestive enzymes, sometimes you can take enzyme supplements. If you have a vitamin deficiency, you'll take extra vitamins.