The cause is unknown, but infection is suspected.
Typical symptoms include anemia, light-colored stools, chronic diarrhea, and weight loss.
A doctor bases the diagnosis on symptoms in a person who lives in or has recently visited one of the areas in which the disorder commonly occurs.
The antibiotic tetracycline treats the disorder.
Tropical sprue occurs chiefly in the Caribbean, southern India, and Southeast Asia. Both natives and visitors (who spend at least 1 month in the area) may develop the disease, but children are rarely affected. This disorder has rarely been reported in the United States. Worldwide, its occurrence has been declining in recent decades. The cause is unknown, but available evidence suggests an infectious cause.
Light-colored, soft, bulky, greasy, and unusually foul-smelling stool (called steatorrhea), chronic diarrhea, fever, a general feeling of illness (malaise), and weight loss are typical symptoms of tropical sprue. Other symptoms of malabsorption of specific nutrients may also develop. A sore tongue develops from vitamin B2 deficiency. Anemia Overview of Anemia Anemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells is low. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that enables them to carry oxygen from the lungs and deliver it to all parts... read more usually develops as a result of iron deficiency Iron Deficiency Iron deficiency is a common cause of anemia, a condition in which the number of red blood cells is low. Iron deficiency usually results from loss of blood in adults (including bleeding from... read more , vitamin B12 deficiency Vitamin B12 Deficiency Vitamin B12 deficiency can occur in vegans who do not take supplements or as a result of an absorption disorder. Anemia develops, causing paleness, weakness, fatigue, and, if severe, shortness... read more , or folate (folic acid) deficiency Folate Deficiency Folate deficiency is common. Because the body stores only a small amount of folate, a diet lacking in folate leads to a deficiency within a few months. Not eating enough raw leafy vegetables... read more , causing fatigue and weakness.
A doctor considers the diagnosis of tropical sprue in a person with anemia and symptoms of malabsorption who lives in or has recently visited one of the areas in which the disorder commonly occurs.
A doctor confirms the diagnosis by removing tissue (biopsy) from the small intestine using an endoscope (a flexible viewing tube equipped with a light source and a camera through which a small clipper can be inserted) and examining the tissue under a microscope. The doctor can identify some characteristic changes in the person's small intestine. A stool sample is usually analyzed to exclude parasites or bacteria as a cause.
Blood tests are done to help determine whether people have undernutrition.
Treatment of tropical sprue usually results in a full recovery.
A person suspected of having tropical sprue is treated with the antibiotic tetracycline. This drug is given for up to 6 months.
Nutritional supplements, especially folate and injections of vitamin B12, are given for several weeks. Other nutritional replacements are given as needed.