What Is Tropical Sprue?
Tropical sprue is caused by inflammation of your intestines.
This swelling makes it more difficult for you to absorb nutrients from food.
This is also called malabsorption. Tropical
sprue makes it particularly difficult to absorb folic acid and vitamin
If you suffer from malabsorption, you’re not getting enough
vitamins and nutrients in your diet. This can cause a number of different
symptoms. Your body needs vitamins and nutrients to function properly.
What Are the Symptoms of
Symptoms of tropical sprue may include any of the following:
- abdominal cramps
- diarrhea, which may get worse on a high-fat diet
- excessive gas
- muscle cramps
- weight loss
What Causes Tropical Sprue?
Tropical sprue is rare unless you live in or visit tropical
areas. Specifically, it generally occurs in the tropical areas of:
- the Caribbean
- South Africa
- Southeast Asia
Researchers believe the condition is caused by an overgrowth
of bacteria in your intestines. The specific bacteria that cause tropical sprue
How Is Tropical Sprue
Many other conditions have symptoms similar to tropical sprue.
- Crohn’s disease
- ulcerative colitis
- irritable bowel syndrome
Other more rare conditions include primary sclerosing
cholangitis and chronic erosive gastritis.
Your doctor will order a series of tests to rule out these conditions.
If your doctor can’t find a reason for your symptoms, and you live or have
visited a tropical area, they may assume you have tropical sprue.
One way to diagnose tropical sprue is to look for signs of
the nutritional deficiencies it causes. Tests for damage caused by
- bone density test
- complete blood count
- folate level
- vitamin B12 level
- vitamin D level
Your doctor may also use an enteroscopy to confirm
your diagnosis. During this test, a thin tube is inserted through your mouth
into your gastrointestinal tract. This allows your doctor to see any changes in
the small intestine.
During the enteroscopy, a small sample of tissue may be
removed. This removal process is called a biopsy, and the sample will
be analyzed. If you have tropical sprue, there may be signs of swelling in the
lining of your small intestine.
How Is Tropical Sprue
Tropical sprue is treated with antibiotics. This kills the
bacteria overgrowth that results in this condition. Antibiotics may be given
for a period of two weeks or one year.
is the most commonly used antibiotic for treating tropical sprue. It’s widely
available, inexpensive, and has been proven to be effective. Other
broad-spectrum antibiotics may also be prescribed, including:
- sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim (Bactrim)
Tetracycline is usually not prescribed in children until
they have all their permanent teeth. This is because tetracycline can discolor
teeth that are still forming. Children will receive a different antibiotic
instead. The dosage will vary depending on your symptoms and response to
In addition to killing the bacteria that cause tropical
sprue, you’ll need to be treated for malabsorption. Your doctor will prescribe
you therapy to replace the vitamins, nutrients, and electrolytes that your body
is lacking. This type of supplementation should begin as soon as you’re
diagnosed. You may be given:
- fluids and electrolytes
- folic acid
- vitamin B12
Folic acid should be given for at least three months. You
may improve quickly and dramatically after your first large dose of folic acid.
Folic acid may be enough to improve symptoms on its own. Vitamin B12 is
recommended if your levels are low or symptoms last for more than four months.
Your doctor may also prescribe antidiarrheal medications to control symptoms.
Long-Term Outlook and
Potential Complications of Tropical Sprue
The most common complications of tropical sprue are vitamin
and mineral deficiencies. The condition can lead to growth failure and problems
with bone maturation in children.
With proper treatment, the outlook for tropical sprue is
very positive. According to the Postgraduate Medical Journal,
most people show good outcomes after three to six months of treatment.