Symptoms Of Malabsorption To Watch Out For

symptoms of malabsorption

Are you eating right and trying to stay healthy but finding your body still seems weak and undernourished? If you have a malabsorption syndrome it could be interfering with how well your body can use the nutrition you are sending its way. With multiple underlying causes that might bring on this issue, you will need to watch for signs of the various conditions that could be behind the malabsorption problem in your case.

What Is Malabsorption?

Malabsorption refers to a condition where your body doesn’t absorb certain nutrients properly. It commonly relates to issues with absorbing fats, sugars, vitamins, minerals, or proteins in the food.1 In some individuals it may be a wider issue that makes absorb nutrition from any kind of food a challenge. The problem results in gastrointestinal systems and digestive problems. So how does this happen?


What Causes Malabsorption?

One reason is if you have an issue with the underproduction of enzymes produced by the pancreas and needed by the body to absorb the nutrients. This could be the result of Cystic fibrosis, or an infected or swollen pancreas, or trauma or surgery to the organ. Another cause for such absorption issues is if your small intestine is in some way affected. That may happen due to damage from parasitic or tapeworm infections, radiation treatment, bacteria overgrowth in the small bowel, surgery involving removal of the small intestine(partial or whole), or Celiac disease or Crohn disease. Other causes of malabsorption are AIDS and HIV, Cholestasis, Lactose or Soy Milk intolerance, or chronic liver disease. Even certain medications like antacids or obesity medication can bring this on.2

Common Symptoms Of Malabsorption

There is a cluster of symptoms typical of anyone who has a malabsorption issue. These are a result of your body’s inability to absorb nutrients that you consume through diet or supplements.3

  • Weight loss
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Greasy stool, due to high fat content of the stool. Stool may be frothy and foul smelling. A ring of oil may be found on the toilet water.
  • Sore tongue (glossitis), due to vitamin/mineral deficiency
  • Dry and scaly lips and angle of the mouth, this fissuring called cheilosis is due to vitamin/mineral deficiency
  • Anemia

Signs And Symptoms Of Malabsorption

Your symptoms will depend on what is at the root of the problem in your case. For instance, a few of the potential causes for the problem are Lactose intolerance, Celiac disease, Chronic pancreatitis, Short bowel syndrome (short gut syndrome), Crohn’s disease, and Whipple disease. Each has their own unique set of symptoms alongside the overlapping signs of malabsorption mentioned earlier, to watch out for.4

Symptoms Of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune problem that causes people with the condition to experience small intestine damage when they eat gluten containing foods. This is a hard problem to pin down because everyone experiences different symptoms. Some people feel no symptoms at all. However, if you are experiencing digestive symptoms, then also check for these signs of Celiac Disease:5

  • Fatigue
  • Bone/joint pain or arthritis or osteoporosis or osteopenia (bone loss)
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Numbness/pain/tingling in hands and feet
  • Migraines
  • Seizures
  • Canker sores in mouth
  • Itchy skin rash
  • Missed menstrual period
  • Recurrent miscarriage
  • Infertility

Children may experience delayed puberty, have short stature, have behavioral issues, and even develop Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Symptoms Of Chronic Pancreatitis

Of the gastrointestinal symptoms, abdominal pain is usually the most noticeable symptom for people with Chronic pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas. A burning or shooting pain, it usually originates in the left or middle of your abdomen and may even move to your back. Also watch for these symptoms:6

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain that is long lasting – several hours or even days

When the illness is at a more advanced stage, it can cause:

  • Appetite loss
  • Jaundice
  • Diabetes like symptoms (frequent urination, thirst, tiredness)

Symptoms Of Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is the inflammation of the digestive system lining. Besides abdominal pain and weight loss, here are symptoms you should watch for:7

  • Recurrent diarrhea
  • Cramps that worsen after eating
  • Fatigue
  • Bloody stools or mucus in stool
  • High fever of 38C (100F) or more
  • Arthiritis
  • Inflammation/irritation of eyes
  • Red, painful, swollen skin – usually on the legs
  • Ulcers in the mouth

Symptoms Of Whipple Disease

This rare bacterial infection can affect your small intestine before moving on to the joints, central nervous system, heart, eyes and lungs. In addition to weight loss, greasy stools, bloating and diarrhea you may have8:

  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloody stools
  • Appetite loss
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Fatigue/weakness
  • Darkening of your skin
  • The small intestine may develop abnormal white and yellow patches in its lining.

If the conditions spreads, you could also experience vision issues, facial numbness, headaches, muscle twitches, trouble with walking, a ringing in the ears/hearing loss, memory problems, personality changes, and even dementia.


Symptoms Of A Parasite Or Tapeworm Infection

If your body is infected by a parasite like a tapeworm or other worms and parasites that live in your gut, it may not be able to thrive as these organisms live off the nutrients in your food, depriving your body of them. Symptoms to watch for are9:

  • Worms in your stool
  • Increased appetite OR Appetite loss
  • Feeling sick/vomiting

In addition you may experience common malabsorption symptoms like weight loss, stomach pain, and diarrhea.


Symptoms Of Liver Disease

Liver disease due to Hepatitis, cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, and even liver cancer causes impairment in the functioning of your liver. The result10:

  • Swelling of the legs in addition to abdominal swelling
  • Tendency to bruise easily
  • Discoloration of urine (will depend on underlying problem but monitor for changes)
  • Discoloration of stool (will depend on underlying problem but monitor for changes)
  • Jaundiced eyes and skin (yellowish tinge)

Symptoms Of AIDS and HIV

HIV or the human immunodeficiency virus attacks the body’s immune system making you vulnerable to infections and can develop into AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome which is a more serious life-threatening condition, if untreated. If you have been infected with HIV, you may see symptoms that include11:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Muscle aches

Once it progresses to full blown AIDS, your symptoms may include12:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Unexplained tiredness/extreme tiredness
  • Recurrent fever
  • Heavy night sweats
  • Diarrhea lasts over a week
  • Sores on mouth, genitals, anus
  • Pneumonia
  • Prolonged lymph gland swelling (especially in neck, armpits, groin)
  • Red, pink, purple, brown blotches beneath skin and in the nose, mouth, and eyelids
  • Depression
  • Memory loss

Symptoms Of Cystic Fibrosis

When cystic fibrosis, a disease of the secretory glands, affects the digestive system it hinders the ability to absorb proteins and fats. As a result you may see gastrointestinal symptoms of malabsorption like gas and abdominal pain. You should also watch for these signs13:

  • Bulky, foul smelling and greasy stools
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Severe constipation
  • Stomach discomfort and pain
  • Poor weight gain children
  • Hampered growth in children

If it worsens it may also result in liver disease, gallstones, diabetes, pancreatitis, or rectal prolapse.

It could also impact the respiratory system causing these symptoms14:

  • Frequent coughing with thick sputum
  • Coughing up bloody mucus
  • Lung infections caused by mucoid Pseudomonas bacteria
  • Frequent sinusitis
  • Frequent bronchitis
  • Frequent pneumonia

Symptoms Of Cholestasis

When the bile from your liver is unable to flow because its movement is completely blocked or slowed, it results in Cholestasis. You may experience abdominal pain and nausea or vomiting as with other causes of malabsorption. In addition, signs to look out for are15

  • Stool that is white or clay colored
  • Dark urine
  • Trouble with digesting some foods
  • Itchiness
  • Yellow eyes or skin

Symptoms Of Other Conditions Associated With Malabsorption

Short Bowel Syndrome: Also known as short gut syndrome, besides weight loss and diarrhea it also causes weakness.16

Lactose Intolerance: Due to a lactase deficiency or lactose malabsorption you could see almost all the common gastrointestinal symptoms mentioned earlier including abdominal bloating, pain, diarrhea, gas, as well as nausea.17

Pancreatic Infections: You could experience malabsorption due to pancreatitis – acute and chronic. With acute pancreatitis, besides bloating and diarrhea, you may feel like vomiting and experience nausea, or even have a fever. If you have chronic pancreatitis symptoms may include upper abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition. Some patients also go on to develop diabetes mellitus.18