Tropical malabsorption

Postgrad Med J. 2006 Dec;82(974):779-87. doi: 10.1136/pgmj.2006.048579.


Malabsorption is an important clinical problem both in visitors to the tropics and in native residents of tropical countries. Infections of the small intestine are the most important cause of tropical malabsorption. Protozoal infections cause malabsorption in immunocompetent hosts, but do so more commonly in the setting of immune deficiency. Helminth infections occasionally cause malabsorption or protein-losing enteropathy. Intestinal tuberculosis, chronic pancreatitis and small-bowel bacterial overgrowth are important causes of tropical malabsorption. In recent years, inflammatory bowel disease and coeliac disease have become major causes of malabsorption in the tropics. Sporadic tropical sprue is still an important cause of malabsorption in adults and in children in South Asia. Investigations to exclude specific infective, immunological or inflammatory causes are important before considering tropical sprue as a diagnosis. This article briefly reviews the management of tropical sprue and presents an algorithm for its investigation and management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Gastroenteritis / complications
  • Humans
  • Immune System Diseases / complications
  • Pancreatitis / complications
  • Parasitic Diseases / complications
  • Sprue, Tropical / microbiology
  • Sprue, Tropical / therapy*
  • Virus Diseases / complications