Malabsorption is difficulty in the digestion or absorption of nutrients from food substances.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Malabsorption can result from a broad spectrum of diseases. Typically, malabsorption can be the failure to absorb specific sugars, fats, proteins, or vitamins, or it can be a general malabsorption of food. diarrhea, bloating or cramping, failure to thrive, frequent bulky stools, muscle wasting, and a distended abdomen may accompany malabsorption.

Malabsorption can affect growth and development, or it can lead to specific illnesses. Some of the causes of malabsorption include:


  • Specific food avoidance  
  • Chronic diarrhea  
  • Bloating and flatulence (gas)  
  • Growth failure

Signs and tests
See the individual conditions.

See the individual conditions.

Expectations (prognosis)
See the individual conditions.


Prolonged malabsorption can result in malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.

Calling your health care provider

Call to make an appointment with your health care provider if you notice symptoms of malabsorption.

See the individual conditions.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by David A. Scott, M.D.

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