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Tropical sprue

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.


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

Exams and Tests


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


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


Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds.Cecil Medicine

Update Date 2/10/2014

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