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Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of malabsorption depend upon the underlying cause as well as the type and severity of nutrient deficiencies. They may become evident quickly or develop slowly and worsen over time. Some nutrients, such as vitamin B12, are stored by the body and symptoms only emerge when stores become depleted. Symptoms associated with insufficient pancreatic enzymes may not emerge until about 90% of the body's production capacity is disrupted.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms seen with general malabsorption include:

  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Fatty stools that are loose and foul-smelling (steatorrhea)
  • Failure to thrive (in children)
  • Abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, and gas

Other signs and symptoms may be due to general ill health or to specific deficiencies caused by malabsorption. They may include:

  • Weakness, fatigue
  • Fluid build-up in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Dry and scaly skin, rash
  • Inflammation of tongue (glossitis)
  • Muscle wasting, unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling of the hands, feet and legs (peripheral edema)
  • Inflammation of mouth (stomatitis)
  • Easy bruising, bleeding gums
  • Numbness and tingling in feet and hands
  • Paleness
  • Muscle or bone pain

The following are some complications that can develop over time as a result of chronic malabsorption:

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