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Malabsorption refers to decreased intestinal absorption of carbohydrate, protein, fat, minerals or vitamins.

There are many symptoms associated with malabsorption. Weight loss, diarrhea, greasy stools (due to high fat content), abdominal bloating and gas are suggestive of malabsorption.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies resulting from malabsorption may cause glossitis (sore tongue), cheilosis (a fissuring and dry scaling of the surface of the lips and angles of the mouth), and anemia.

Chronic diarrhea is often the first symptom prompting one to seek medical evaluation, although diarrhea need not be present for one to have malabsorption. Steatorrhea, or fatty stools, is indicative of malabsorption. Stools will be frothy, foul smelling, and a ring of oil may be left on the toilet water.

The gastrointestinal tract and liver play key roles in the digestion, absorption and metabolism of nutrients. Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver may profoundly disturb normal nutrition.

An understanding of the anatomy of the gastrointestinal tract as well as the role each major segment plays in the digestion and absorption of food will help one understand the causes of malabsorption and shed light on the rationale for specific treatment regimens. In order for food to be absorbed, it must first be digested. Digestion is the mechanical and chemical process by which food is prepared for absorption.

After a meal, food must first be broken down into simpler substances that can pass through the cells of the small intestine into the blood which transports them to all the cells of the body. The cells of the body can utilize these simpler substances as a source of energy. Digestion converts dietary protein into simple amino acids, dietary fats into fatty acids and monoglycerides, and starch into glucose.

Working with Your Doctor

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Successful relationships with healthcare providers are an important part of managing life with a long-term digestive disorder.

Doctor–Patient Communication

How to Help Your Doctor Help You

How to Talk to Your Doctor