Tropical Sprue

Tropical sprue is a digestive disorder found in people inhabiting certain tropical regions, in whom the lining of the small intestine become abnormal due to unknown reasons, resulting in malabsorption and associated deficiency diseases.

  • Some kind of infection is thought to be the cause of this disease but the exact reason is still unknown.
  • Weight loss and anemia, accompanied by chronic diarrhea with light color stools, are the usual symptoms.
  • The typical symptoms, and travel history of visiting tropical areas or living in regions where the disease is common, help the doctor in diagnosis.
  • Antibiotic drug therapy with tetracycline is the effective treatment for tropical sprue.

Tropical sprue is prevalent in certain geographical areas of tourist interest such as Southeast Asia, southern states of India and the Caribbean islands. The disease can affect the natives of these places as well as visitors. The exact reason for the disease is still not known but it is suspected to be an infectious disease. However, children are found to be unaffected by this condition.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The characteristic symptoms of tropical sprue include chronic diarrhea with stools of light color. Weight loss is another typical symptom. Nutritional deficiencies resulting from malabsorption precipitate several other symptoms too. Deficiency of Riboflavin (vitaminB2) results in soreness of tongue and cracking of lips and corners of the mouth. Deficiency of iron and folic acid leads to the development of anemia, causing weakness and fatigue.

When a person, who lives in or has recently visited tropical and subtropical regions where the disease is prevalent, displays typical symptoms of tropical sprue as well as symptoms malabsorption such as anemia, the doctor usually investigates this condition. An x-ray is taken, and an endoscopic investigation and biopsy of the lining of the small intestine is done. These tests may show some abnormalities of the lining, but they may not be conclusive evidence of the disease. Other possible causes of similar symptoms such as bacterial infections and parasitic infestations are eliminated, by conducting a stool test, before treatment of tropical sprue is initiated.


Antibiotic therapy for an extended period is the standard treatment for tropical sprue. Usually, the drug tetracycline is continued for many months. Vitamin B12 and folate are also given along with the antibiotics. People completely recover from tropical sprue with adequate treatment.

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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