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Malabsorption involves problems with the body's ability to take in nutrients from food.

Causes of Malabsorption

Many diseases can cause malabsorption. Most often, malabsorption involves problems absorbing certain sugars, fats, proteins, or vitamins. It can also involve an overall problem with absorbing food.

Some of the causes of malabsorption include:

Vitamin B12 malabsorption may be due to:

Malabsorption Symptoms

  • Bloating, cramping, and gas
  • Bulky stools
  • Chronic diarrhea (may not occur with vitamin malabsorption)
  • Failure to thrive
  • Fatty stools (steatorrhea)
  • Muscle wasting
  • Weight loss

Malabsorption can affect growth and development. It also can lead to some illnesses.

Tests and Exams

Your doctor or nurse will do an exam. Tests that may be done include:

Treatment of Malabsorption

You may need to take extra vitamins and nutrients.

Prognosis (Outlook)

The outlook depends on what is causing the malabsorption.

Potential Complications

Long-term malabsorption can result in:

When to Contact a Health Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of malabsorption.

Prevention of Malabsorption

Prevention depends on the condition causing malabsorption.


Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 142.

Hogenauer C, Hammer HF. Maldigestion and malabsorption. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 101.

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Review Date: 8/11/2014
Reviewed By: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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