Fat malabsorption is an inability of the intestine to absorb fats. Fats are essential nutrients needed for energy and growth. A number of diseases of the intestine, liver and pancreas can lead to this condition. Toddlers can be severely affected by fat malabsorption due to their rapid rate of growth. A number of signs and symptoms are present if your toddler has this condition, and some specific signs might point to the cause.
Diarrhea is the most common problem with fat malabsorption at any age. The diarrhea that occurs is unique and typically is called steatorrhea" meaning "fat in the stool." These stools are typically greasy, bulky and, if your toddler is using the toilet training, float in the toilet bowl. They often have a foul smell. A common test to diagnose fat malabsorption is a stool test, in which a laboratory technician analyzes the stool to determine if the fat content higher than normal.
Infants have a high requirement for fats, which are energy-rich molecules needed for growth. Fats are an important source of energy and provide 9 calories per gram. Symptoms of malabsorption are usually more severe in toddlers, because of their "limited energy reserves and higher proportion of calorie intake being used for weight gain and linear growth," according to "Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics." Toddlers with mild fat malabsorption may fail to gain weight; in more severe cases, they may start to lose weight and have stunted growth. Affected toddlers may also have loose skin and muscle wasting.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are the fat soluble vitamins. Disorders of fat absorption result in a loss of these vitamins as well. Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness, chronic diarrhea, scaly skin and frequent lung infections. Vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets, a disorder of bone growth. Vitamin K deficiency can cause a bleeding disorder because the blood does not clot well. Rarely, a vitamin E disorder can cause mild anemia.
Other symptoms of fat malabsorption may occur, depending on the specific disease causing the condition. Cystic fibrosis can cause repeated bouts of pneumonia and constipation. Bassen-Kornzweig syndrome is a rare congenital disease that also is associated with unsteady gait and mental retardation. Liver diseases may also have associated jaundice, which causes a yellow discoloration of the skin. Celiac disease, in which there is malabsorption of all nutrients, can have an associated skin rash. Consult with your child's doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment.
- Pediatric Care Online; "AAP Textbook of Pediatric Care"; Chapter 169: Diarrhea and Steatorrhea; Martin H. Ulshen, MD
- "Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics"; Dr. Robert M. Kliegman, et al.; 2008