Numerous health problems are associated with impaired fat digestion. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, or NIDDK, fat molecules are a rich source of energy for your body. Many of your organs participate in the digestion of fatty foods. In most cases, fatty foods are easily digested. However, certain medical conditions may impair your body's ability to break down fat, causing health complications that range from mild to severe.
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Gastroparesis is a medical problem that can impair your body's ability to digest fatty foods. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, or ACG, gastroparesis is a digestive disorder that affects the ability of your stomach to empty its contents. The term gastroparesis literally means stomach paralysis. When you have gastroparesis, your stomach is unable to contract normally, which means it cannot crush food or push partially digested food into your small intestine. With gastroparesis, normal digestion -- including the digestion of fatty food -- may not occur. Common signs and symptoms associated with gastroparesis include bloating, the sensation of fullness when eating, heartburn, upper abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting and unintended weight loss. The ACG notes ingestion of solid foods, high-fiber foods and fatty foods can provoke symptoms.
Gallstones can cause problems with fatty food digestion. Gallstones are hardened masses of digestive fluid that manifest in your gallbladder, a small, pear-shaped organ located in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen, just below your liver. Your gallbladder stores bile, a digestive fluid, that is released into your small intestine. Certain risk factors can increase your likelihood of gallstones or pain due to inflammation of your gallbladder, including consuming a high-fat, low-fiber diet, having obesity or overweight, being pregnant, being female and being over age 60. Common signs and symptoms associated with gallstones include intensifying pain in your upper right abdominal quadrant that comes on suddenly, back pain between your shoulder blades, pain in your right shoulder, jaundice and high fever with chills.
Chronic pancreatitis is a medical problem associated with impaired fat digestion. According to the Merck Manuals website, chronic pancreatitis is a long-standing inflammation of your pancreas that leads to irreversible degeneration of your pancreatic structure and function. In most cases, there is no clear cause of chronic pancreatitis, although alcohol abuse, genetics, hyperparathyroidism or an obstruction of your pancreatic duct by gallstones or cancer may be contributory. If you have chronic pancreatitis, your ability to digest foods, including fatty foods, is impaired. Poor digestion, states the NIDDK, leads to malnutrition due to excretion of fat in your stool. Common signs and symptoms associated with chronic pancreatitis include upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea and oily stools. According to the NIDDK, chronic pancreatitis-related weight loss occurs because your body does not secrete enough pancreatic enzymes to digest your food.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.