Maldigestion is a gastrointestinal complaint characterized by malfunctions with the digestive system which cause it to work improperly. There are a number of reasons why a person might experience maldigestion. Chronic poor digestion can lead to malabsorption, in which people cannot get the nutrients they need from their diet and experience health problems as a result. People with maldigestion and malabsorption disorders may experience problems like weight loss, diarrhea, abdominal pain and tenderness, excessive farting, fatigue, poor skin, and unhealthy hair and nails.
One reason for maldigestion to occur is a disease process. Diseases of the liver, kidneys, and pancreas can all result in maldigestion because these organs play a role in digestive processes as can conditions like Crohn's disease. Genetic conditions such as enzyme deficiencies can also contribute, with people not producing the enzymes they need to break food down. A common example is lactose intolerance, in which people cannot digest lactose because they don't have the right enzymes. Gluten intolerance is another common example of a maldigestion disorder.
Other things which can be related to this condition include problems with gastric emptying, such as emptying the stomach contents before they are ready to move on to the next stage of digestion, and changes to the structure of the stomach or intestines. Some surgeries can cause maldigestion by removing parts of the large or small bowel or reconstructing the stomach. Sometimes this is actually deliberate, as in the case of weight loss surgery which is intended to limit digestion.
When a patient appears to have this condition, a doctor can order some diagnostic tests to learn more. These can include imaging studies to examine the structure of the intestinal tract, along with challenge tests with various food items which are designed to determine whether or not these foods are associated with the problem. Measures to address an inability to digest food can include changes to the diet and surgery.
It is important to be aware the condition can have a ripple effect. When someone cannot digest wheat, for example, it causes inflammation and irritation which interfere with the absorption of nutrients from foods which can normally be digested. This is why people become ill when they cannot digest particular foods, and it can take weeks or months for digestive tract to recover and begin processing food normally. When people stray from restrictive diets and consume a forbidden food item, they can experience lingering ill effects as a result of the disruption caused by the indigestible food.