Carbohydrate Malabsorption

Also known as: carbohydrate intolerance, lactose intolerance, isomaltase-sucrase deficiency, isolated fructose malabsorption.

What is carbohydrate malabsorption?

When people’s bodies are unable to absorb sugars, starches and other carbohydrates, this condition is known as carbohydrate malabsorption. It can lead to a number of complications.

What causes carbohydrate malabsorption?
Individuals with carbohydrate malabsorption tend to lack the enzymes in the intestines or elsewhere that are required to properly break down carbohydrates into a usable form. For many people, the tendency for carbohydrate malabsorption is genetic or ethnic in origin, and this condition will be life-long. Sometimes, an infection can create temporary inflammation in the gut, leading to diminished levels of the enzymes in the intestinal lining that help break down carbohydrates; in these instances, a person’s tendencies to poorly absorbed carbohydrates will improve as the intestine heals. Still other patients will experience carbohydrate malabsorption secondary to chronic inflammation in their intestinal tract, such as persons with inflammatory bowel disease.

What are the symptoms of carbohydrate malabsorption?
Symptoms of carbohydrate malabsorption can include diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, bloating, flatulence and other problems. Over time, nutritional deficiencies and failure to thrive can become a problem.

What are carbohydrate malabsorption care options?
In most cases, the treatment for carbohydrate malabsorption is to avoid dietary intake of the carbohydrate that the body has trouble breaking down. For example, a person with lactose intolerance needs to limit intake of milk and milk products, as these contain the carbohydrate lactose. In some instances, supplements that help break down lactose or sucrose can be used to decrease or control symptoms.

Reviewed by: John M. Peters, DO

This page was last updated on: 3/23/2018 2:09:15 PM


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