In children, current weight or rate of weight gain is often much lower than that of other children of similar age and sex. This is called failure to thrive. The child may not grow and develop normally.
Adults may also have failure to thrive, with weight loss, muscle wasting, weakness, and even problems thinking.
Changes in the stools are often present, but not always.
Changes in the stools may include:
Bloating, cramping, and gas
Fatty stools (steatorrhea)
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will do an exam. Tests that may be done include:
If needed, injections of some vitamins and minerals or special growth factors will be given. Those with damage to the pancreas may need to take pancreatic enzymes. Your provider will prescribe these if necessary.
Medicines to slow down the normal movement of the intestine can be tried. This may allow food to remain in the intestine longer.
If the body is not able to absorb enough nutrients, total parenteral nutrition (TPN) is tried. It will help you or your child get nutrition from a special formula through a vein in the body. Your provider will select the right amount of calories and TPN solution. Sometimes, you can also eat and drink while getting nutrition from TPN.
The outlook depends on what is causing the malabsorption.
Bradley J. Winston, MD, board certified in gastroenterology and hepatology, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.