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Tropical sprue

Definition

Tropical sprue is a condition that occurs in people who live in or visit tropical areas. It impairs nutrients from being absorbed from the intestines. This causes malabsorption.

Causes

This disease is caused by inflammation of, and damage to the small intestine. It comes from having too much of certain types of bacteria in the intestines.

Risk factors are:

  • Living in the tropics
  • Long periods of travel to tropical destinations

Symptoms

Exams and Tests

Treatment

Treatment begins with plenty of fluids and electrolytes. Replacement of folate, iron, vitamin B12, and other nutrients may also be needed. Antibiotic therapy with tetracycline or Bactrim is typically given for 3 to 6 months.

In most cases, oral tetracycline is not prescribed for children until after all the permanent teeth have come in. This medicine can permanently discolor teeth that are still forming. However, other antibiotics can be used.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome is good with treatment.

Possible Complications

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common.

In children, sprue leads to:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • Tropical sprue symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment
  • You develop new symptoms
  • You have diarrhea or other symptoms of this disorder for a long period of time, especially after spending time in the tropics

Prevention

Other than avoiding living in or traveling to tropical climates, there is no known prevention for tropical sprue.

References

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 142.


Review Date: 2/10/2014
Reviewed By: Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, Boca Raton, FL. Affiliate Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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