Tropical Sprue

Tropical sprue is a malabsorptive disorder (like celiac sprue) characterized by abnormalities in the lining of the small intestine, resulting in poor absorption of folic acid, salts and increased water loss. It is believed to be infectious in origin, and typically occurs after travel to third world countries. Patients will complain of diarrhea, weight loss, dyspepsia, bloating, and eventually develop nutritional deficiencies.

Tropical sprue is clinically suspected from the clinical symptoms and history of recent foreign travel. There are no specific blood tests to diagnose tropical sprue. Upper endoscopy is often performed to obtain a small intestine biopsy sample of the intestinal lining. The biopsy will show variable degrees of atrophy of the small intestine with villous blunting and inflammation.

To treat tropical sprue, patients are prescribed high doses of folic acid, and antibiotics are often required. Once treated, tropical sprue does not recur unless the patient is re-exposed by returning to tropical areas.