MSD Manual

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Quick Facts

Whipple Disease

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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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 protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

What is Whipple disease?

Whipple disease is a rare infection that damages the lining of your small intestine. You have trouble breaking down (digesting) food and absorbing nutrients.

Whipple disease may affect other organs too, such as your heart, lungs, brain, joints, and eyes.

  • Symptoms can include diarrhea, swollen and painful joints, weight loss, and belly pain

  • Antibiotics can treat the infection, but the disease can come back

  • Without treatment, Whipple disease can be deadly

What are the symptoms of Whipple disease?

The main symptoms of Whipple disease are:

  • Swollen, painful joints

  • Diarrhea (frequent, loose, or watery stool)

  • Belly pain

  • Weight loss

Other symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Not feeling hungry

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count), which may make you feel weak and tired

  • Cough

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • If the infection spreads to your brain—confusion or memory loss

How can doctors tell if I have Whipple disease?

Doctors diagnose Whipple disease by finding the bacteria that causes the disease in a biopsy sample taken from your small intestine. With a biopsy, doctors take a small sample of tissue using instruments on the end of an endoscope (a flexible viewing tube) and then look at the sample under a microscope.

How do doctors treat Whipple disease?

Doctors treat Whipple disease with antibiotics for at least a year. The disease can sometimes come back after treatment.

If untreated, Whipple disease gets worse and can be deadly.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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