To find a doctor, call 800-667-5356 or click below:

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

left banner
right banner
Smaller Larger


En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention


Malabsorption is when the body is not able to get the nutrients it needs from food. Although food is digested, the body has trouble absorbing certain vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, or fats. The condition

The Intestines

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Malabsorption is associated with a number of diseases that affect the intestines or other areas of the gastrointestinal tract such as:

  • Lactose intolerance
  • Celiac disease
  • Intestinal parasites
  • HIV/AIDS, cancer, or treatment for those diseases
  • Whipple disease or other bacterial infections
  • Crohns disease
  • Inadequate digestion due to:
    • Bacterial overgrowth syndrome
    • Gastric resection (removal of all or part of the stomach)
    • Inadequate function of the pancreas
    • Excessive production of gastric acid
    • Short bowel syndrome or previous bowel resection

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of having malabsorption include:

  • Medical conditions affecting the intestine, such as celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, or Crohns disease
  • Use of laxatives
  • Excessive use of antibiotics
  • Intestinal surgery
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Travel to countries with high incidence of intestinal parasites


Malabsorption may cause:

  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal distention and bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Flatulence
  • Bulky, foul-smelling stools
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Swelling or fluid retention
  • Muscle wasting


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:

  • Blood test for low levels of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients
  • X-rays
  • Small bowel biopsy
  • A 72-hour stool collection to test for excess fat
  • Pancreatic function test
  • D-Xylose absorption test checks for abnormality in intestinal absorption
  • Hydrogen breath test to measures how well lactose is being digested


The specific underlying condition must be treated in order to reverse the malabsorption.

Depending on the cause and severity of the malabsorption, you may need to make up for nutritional deficiencies by consuming additional nutrients through foods or supplements. A diet rich in vitamins and minerals along with increased quantities of fat, protein, or carbohydrate may be required. Nutrient supplementation may include folate, iron, and vitamin B12. In some cases, nutrients may be given intravenously.


Conditions that cause malabsorption need to be managed. Work with your doctor and follow the recommended treatment plan to decrease malabsorption complications.





Search Your Health