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What Are the Different Malabsorption Symptoms?

The pancreas manufactures enzymes that play an important role in the digestion of food in the gastrointestinal tract.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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Malabsorption symptoms occur when the body’s gastrointestinal system is not functioning normally and fails to absorb and use the nutrients it receives from food. This differs from scenarios where people don’t consume enough nutritional food, but in most cases, those with malabsorption do eat an adequate diet. Poor absorption, which can be caused by numerous conditions, means the body isn’t making proper use of the foods it receives. Minor symptoms, such as a few days of foul smelling diarrhea and weakness, might accompany a short-lasting case of malabsorption. Alternately, symptoms may become very serious if the condition is chronic, with almost all body systems suffering from lack of essential nutrients and vitamins.

One of the most prominent malabsorption symptoms is change in stool appearance, and this is often a first indicator of problems. Some people will have frequent watery diarrhea, and others have indication of excess amounts of fat in the stool, which becomes light-colored in appearance and may stick to the toilet bowl or tend to float at the top of the water. Extremely bulky stool, when normal amounts of food are consumed, could also signify the body is wasting, instead of using, the nutrition it receives. Changes in stool appearance are often accompanied by other intestinal symptoms like abdominal cramping, gas, and heartburn.

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Many people who have temporary stomach upset, from a stomach flu or mild foodborne illness, could experience a few days of malabsorption symptoms. If the condition becomes chronic, these early symptoms tend to worsen and other signs of poor nutritional absorption become evident. Those with chronic malabsorption may notice things like unexplained weight loss. Children could have delays in growth or be diagnosed with failure to thrive.

More specific malabsorption symptoms may depend on the problem’s cause and the nutrients that aren’t being absorbed. Some causes mean the gastrointestinal system is failing to absorb some nutrients, but sill absorbs others. Different areas of the body that depend on specific nutrients could be most affected when malabsorption of this type is chronic. Calcium deficiency could affect bone growth, density and strength; low levels of protein creates water retention, and iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12 deficiencies may cause different forms of anemia that result in feelings of weakness or fatigue.

In many instances, malabsorption symptoms suggest multiple nutrient deficiencies. Anemia, bone weakness, and water retention could all be present together. If these symptoms continue to be ignored, damage to multiple body systems can accumulate. In worse case scenarios, those chronically deprived of nutrients can develop kidney problems or even heart failure. It is important to diagnose the cause and treat it, if possible. At the same time, those affected by malabsorption require other means of nutritional support to make up for missing nutrients.

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anon307473
Post 1

I have been having pale stools, nausea, heartburn for almost a year. I also have delayed growth. I am 20 but I look like I'm 13-15 years old.

I think I have celiac disease. I have taken a urine test, but my doctor said it has low concentration and I need to drink lemon juice. He probably doesn't know anything, plus I refused to have a stool test. I avoid eating anything containing wheat. I need to take more tests but I am too lazy to go to the hospital.

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