Malabsorption Syndrome

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Malabsorption syndrome is a condition in which people are unable to absorb nutrients like fat, carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins or protein from there food.  It can happen from any defect in absorption or digestion process.

What is malabsorption syndrome?

Malabsorption syndrome is a disorder that happens when your body doesn’t absorb nutrients from the food you eat. Under the name malabsorption, there comes a wide range of disorders that affect the ability to absorb nutrients from the food you eat. Digestion is divided into three parts. The first part is breaking down the food into pieces as you can consume it. The second part is the absorption of the food you consume. The third part is the elimination of waste left over after the good stuff has been absorbed. However, if you have any digestive issues, the problem can occur in any of these three stages. Conditions like malabsorption come under the second stage of digestion.

Malabsorption can even lead to indigestion or sometimes malnutrition, not because of a lack of enough nutrients but because of the inability to absorb proper nutrients from the food you consume. Malabsorption can even happen when your diet is good, as it has a problem absorbing nutrients and minerals from food. The condition can lead to symptoms like diarrhoea and bloating, as it can also cause serious complications and increase chances of bone fracture and infection.  

Different types of malabsorption disorders

Malabsorption is caused by low or no absorption of nutrients, but in some cases, a person can have difficulty absorbing different types of nutrients.

Some of these types are:

Carbohydrate malabsorption

For some people, it is hard to digest several carbohydrates like starch, sucrose and lactose. Because of the small intestine, humans can’t fully absorb carbohydrates, due to which they get fermented by bacteria in the colon. You may feel abdominal bloating and gas pain. Fatty acid and gas are made by bacteria, and the gas can be intestinal gas, and fatty acid causes fatty stools.

Fat malabsorption

Fat malabsorption is the most common malabsorption syndrome, as it can’t digest and absorb the fat present in food. Mainly, you can’t absorb fat in your small intestine and pass it through your colon. Fatty stools are commonly runny, greasy and especially smelly. The body can not absorb fat, which causes fatty stools to appear light in colour and float.

Protein malabsorption

Protein malabsorption usually occur automatically when the pH level is low(acidic environment) or you have some kind of intolerance. The extent of protein is mainly due to pH level.  

Causes of malabsorption

Malabsorption happens when you can’t digest or absorb proper nutrients from the food you consume. Digestion begins with the breakdown of food; it starts when the enzymes in a person’s saliva start to break food into smaller parts so that the body can absorb it.

Then, the enzymes continue to break the food as it travels through the oesophagus, stomach, large intestine and small intestine till it leaves the body as a form of waste. You also absorb nutrients into your bloodstream through the walls of the small intestine as it comes down. Then, the blood absorbs protein and calcium into your muscles, bones and organs.

Malabsorption syndrome occurs mainly when any type of digestive function is not working. To keep malabsorption away from the person, it is important for enzymes in your body to work properly, and movement in your large and small intestines should work properly. Sometimes, some medical conditions can also affect the designation and absorption process.

There are some other causes for malabsorption, too:

  • When you take antibiotics for a long period of time.
  • Damage to the intestine is caused by infection, injury, inflammation, or surgery.
  • When you are lactose intolerant
  • Any kind of disease to the liver, pancreas or gallbladder.
  • Radiation therapy or any kind of drug that injures the lining of the intestine.

You may find some of these causes make more sense when you think about how they affect your digestive system.

There are different types of malabsorption disorders, and they have different kinds of underlying causes. Consult your doctor to get proper treatment, as they classify malabsorption disorder types by the symptoms.

Symptoms of malabsorption syndrome

Symptoms of malabsorption can be seen when your body is releasing unabsorbed nutrients through the intestine in the form of stool. It can give you abdominal discomfort like bloating and gas.

Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Weight loss
  • Frequent diarrhoea
  • Stool that is light in colour, bad-smelling and loose stool
  • Stools that are hard to flush, as they stick to the toilet bowl or float
  • Scary skin rashes

Malabsorption syndrome can vary according to specific nutrient deficiency which cause by poor absorption or the nutrients that are not being absorbed properly by small intestine. You may see symptoms of malabsorption for particular nutrient like fats, protein, certain vitamin or sugar.

  • Fats: If your body is not absorbing fats properly it will show you symptoms of malabsorption like foul-smelling stool that is light in colour, looks bulky and soft and will be hard to flush as it may stick to sides of toilet bowl.
  • Protein: Unabsorbed protein may give you signs throughout your body as it will show symptoms like hair loss, dry hair or fluid retention.
  • Certain vitamins: When your body doesn’t absorb proper vitamins from the food you consume, it will have issues like low blood pressure, weight loss, malnutrition, anaemia or muscle wasting.
  • Certain sugar: Symptoms for unabsorbed certain type of sugar can feels like bloating, gas or explosive diarrhea.

The human body needs nutrients from food. And absorption of nutrients is most important. Some people won’t get enough nutrient absorption from food; they might experience long-term symptoms of malabsorption like bone pain and bones that fracture easily, muscle wasting, weight loss, a sore tongue and iron deficiency, which can result in shortness of breath. Malabsorption may affect people’s characteristics according to what nutrient is deficient in their body.

Who is more likely to get malabsorption?

The risks of getting malabsorption syndrome include:

  • If a person has a family history of cystic fibrosis or malabsorption.
  • Children with bad stomach flu may have a great chance of short-term bouts of malabsorption.
  • Chances may increase if you have any digestive diseases.  Like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease.
  • Intestinal surgery
  • In some cases, you travel to places known for intestinal parasites.
  • Consuming a higher amount of alcohol.
  • Use of certain medications that affect your digestive health.

Diagnosing and testing malabsorption syndrome

How do you know if you have malabsorption?

Similar to other digestive diseases, malabsorption can also be diagnosed through a process. Consulting your doctor will help, as the doctor will be examining you on the basis of your health history and the symptoms you may be showing.

Some symptoms like fatty stool, muscle wasting, weight loss and chronic diarrhoea are highly noticeable symptoms of malabsorption and malnutrition. Even if you have a history of chronic gastrointestinal surgery, it may raise suspicions of malabsorption. Certain tests will be performed by your healthcare provider to confirm the diagnosis.

What tests are done to diagnose malabsorption syndrome?

When you consult with the doctor about your symptoms, they will perform several tests to confirm the diagnosis they made on the basis of your symptoms. Malabsorption syndrome test includes:

  • Blood test: Blood test shows the deficiency of specific nutrients that may be the reason for malabsorption. Blood tests are done to test for nutrients like Vitamin D and B12, iron, phosphorus, calcium, protein, folate, and carotene. Whereas lack of these nutrients may not mean that you have malabsorption, it can mean you are not choosing enough nutrient-rich food.
  • Stool test: Stool can measured to check the fat contain in your stool for diagnosis of fat malabsorption. Whereas, if you have too much fat in your stool it can indicate the malabsorption syndrome. It can also indicates parasite infection.
  • Breath test: Breath tests are done to check the lactose tolerance in your body, as they are tested after you consume a glass of milk and sugar(solution). It checks the amount of hydrogen absorbed from the milk. If the person is lactose intolerant, the lactose won’t be absorbed, and it will enter the colon. The bacteria present in your colon will break down the lactose and produce hydrogen gas, which then will travel from the intestine to the bloodstream into the lungs. Then, you will exhale the gas for the test. As a result, if you exhale hydrogen gas after the milk intake, you are lactose intolerant.
  • Imaging test: Your doctor may ask you to take a GI X-ray, ultrasound or video capsule to check the digestive organ image for diagnosis of any sign of disease. They may ask you to do a CT scan to check the thickening of the wall of your small intestine.
  • Biopsy: Biopsy is done when your doctor suspects you have any abnormal cells in the lining of your intestine. A small tissue will be taken from the inside of your small intestine and will be sent for the test to check if you have any sign of infection or symptoms that indicate malabsorption.
  • Endoscopy: it is a process in which a tube is inserted into your stomach trough your mouth into the small intestine to take the sample cell.

Treatment options for malabsorption syndrome

Treating malabsorption is easy, or in some cases, it can’t be cured but can be manageable, as it just needs proper absorption of nutrients into your body. Treatment of malabsorption depends on the type of syndrome you have. Consult your doctor about the symptoms, and the doctor will suggest what treatment is beneficial for you.

They may put you on a special diet or suggest you consult a dietitian for a treatment plan that will make sure your body is digesting and absorbing the proper amount of nutrients from food as planned.  Your doctor may suggest you start supplements for the nutrients that your body didn’t absorb properly.

Sometimes the cause of malabsorption can be any kind of infection, in this case the healthcare provider will prescribe you antibiotics. However, the cause of malabsorption can be because of highly active intestinal tract, Prescribed medicines will help you in relax and allow more time to absorb nutrient from your diet and pass those nutrients into your bloodstream.

As for the sign of dehydration, your doctor will diagnose the symptoms of dehydration that includes. Low urine output, increased thirst, dry skin, mouth and tongue. Your doctor will also check if you body is not absorbing lactose properly, as they will suggest you to stop milk and other dairy products and may suggest you to take a lactose enzyme tablet.


Malabsorption syndrome is a disorder that indicates low absorption of nutrients in the human body as it can have a dramatic effect on a person. Malabsorption syndrome has symptoms like weight loss, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain. It can be cured, but in some serious conditions, it can only be manageable.

It is suggested that you consult your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms, as it is important to start the treatment early for better results.


1. What is malabsorption syndrome?

Malabsorption syndrome is a kind of disorder in which people are unable to absorb proper amount of nutrients from the food they eat.

2. What are the basic symptoms of malabsorption syndrome?

Basic symptoms of malabsorption are weight loss, frequent diarrhoea, bad-smelling and hard-to-flush stool as it floats or sticks to the toilet bowl and scary skin rashes. You should consult the doctor if you notice these symptoms.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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