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Tropical Sprue

  • Author: Rohan C Clarke, MD; Chief Editor: Julian Katz, MD  more...
 
Updated: Dec 15, 2014
 

Background

Tropical sprue (TS) is a syndrome characterized by acute or chronic diarrhea, weight loss, and malabsorption of nutrients. It occurs in residents of or visitors to the tropics and subtropics. The first description of tropical sprue is attributed to William Hillary's 1759 account of his observations of chronic diarrhea while in Barbados. Subsequently, tropical sprue was described in tropical climates throughout the world. The definition has been expanded to include malabsorption of at least 2 different substances when other causes are excluded.

Tropical sprue (H&E, orig. mag. ×10). Tropical sprue (H&E, orig. mag. ×10).
Endoscopic views of unsuspected celiac disease. A: Endoscopic views of unsuspected celiac disease. A: Absent duodenal folds. B: Mucosal fissures and scalloped folds. C: Scalloped fold.

The exact causative factor of tropical sprue is unknown, but an intestinal microbial infection is believed to be the initiating insult. The infection results in enterocyte injury, intestinal stasis, and possible bacteria overgrowth. Villous destruction and demonstrable nutrient malabsorption occur in varying degrees. Folate, vitamin B-12, and iron deficiencies are the most common nutrient deficiencies.

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Pathophysiology

The exact role of microbial agents in the initiation and propagation of the disease is poorly understood. One theory is that an acute intestinal infection leads to jejunal and ileal mucosa injury; then intestinal bacterial overgrowth and increased plasma enteroglucagon results in retardation of small-intestinal transit. Central to this process is folate deficiency, which probably contributes to further mucosal injury.

Hormone enteroglucagon and motilin levels are elevated in patients with tropical sprue. Enterocyte injury can cause these elevations. Enteroglucagon causes intestinal stasis, but the role of motilin is not clear.

The upper small intestine is predominantly affected; however, because it is a progressive and contiguous disease, the distal small intestine up to the terminal ileum may be involved. Pathological changes are rarely demonstrated in the stomach and colon. Coliform bacteria, such as Klebsiella, E coli and Enterobacter species are isolated and are the usual organisms associated with tropical sprue.[1, 2, 3, 4]

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Epidemiology

Frequency

United States

Tropical sprue occurs in geographically limited areas. The syndrome is not reported in US patients unless they have lived in or traveled to any of the areas described below.

International

Tropical sprue occurs in both epidemic and endemic forms, primarily in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. The actual prevalence of the endemic form is difficult to estimate, but rates as high as 8% are reported in Puerto Rico. One unusual feature is that tropical sprue appears to be limited to certain geographic areas, even within the tropics. For example, although tropical sprue is commonly reported in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, it is not reported in Jamaica. Only a few cases are reported in emigrants from southern Africa.

Mortality/Morbidity

Acute illness complicated by fluid and electrolyte deficits is rarely fatal. The frequency of this complication is not known but appears to be decreasing. Chronic illness with severe malabsorption and anemia can also lead to death, but this usually occurs in patients with comorbid conditions.

Race

Tropical sprue is confined to geographic regions, but it is observed in individuals of all races who live in or visit those regions.

Sex

The male-to-female ratio is equal.

Age

Tropical sprue is primarily an adult disease, but it has been described in children.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Rohan C Clarke, MD Director, Department of Gastroenterology, JPS Health Systems Hospital

Rohan C Clarke, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a speaker or a member of a speakers bureau for: Cubist; <br/>Received reimbursement from Boston Scientific for learning observership for eus; Received honoraria from Optimer pharmaceutical for speaking and teaching.

Coauthor(s)

Oluyinka S Adediji, MD, MBBS Consulting Staff, Department of Adult and General Medicine, Health Services Incorporated, Montgomery, Alabama

Oluyinka S Adediji, MD, MBBS is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Lisa Anne Ozick, MD Attending Gastroenterologist, Leumit Health Clinic, Israel

Lisa Anne Ozick, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Sabo B Tanimu, MD Fellow, Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Harlem Hospital Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Rachael M Ferraro, DO Internal Medicine Hospitalist, Torrance Memorial Medical Center, Little Company of Mary Hospital

Rachael M Ferraro, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Osteopathic Internists, American College of Physicians, American Osteopathic Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Noel Williams, MD, FRCPC FACP, MACG, Professor Emeritus, Department of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Noel Williams, MD, FRCPC is a member of the following medical societies: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Julian Katz, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine

Julian Katz, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Geriatrics Society, American Medical Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, American Trauma Society, Association of American Medical Colleges, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Manoop S Bhutani, MD Professor, Co-Director, Center for Endoscopic Research, Training and Innovation (CERTAIN), Director, Center for Endoscopic Ultrasound, Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of Texas Medical Branch; Director, Endoscopic Research and Development, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Manoop S Bhutani, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

References
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  2. Klipstein, FA. Tropical Sprue. Gastroenterology. 1968. 54:275.

  3. Gorbach, SL, Banwell, JG, Jacobs, B, et al. Tropical Sprue and Malnutrition in West Bengal. I. Intestinal microflora and absorption. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1970. 23:1545.

  4. Klipstein, FA, Holdeman, LV, Corcino, JJ, et al. Enterotoxigenic intestinal bacteria in tropical sprue. Annals of Internal Medicine. 1973. 79:632.

  5. Brown IS, Bettington A, Bettington M, et al. Tropical sprue: revisiting an underrecognized disease. Am J Surg Pathol. 2014 May. 38(5):666-72. [Medline].

  6. Ghoshal UC, Mehrotra M, Kumar S, et al. Spectrum of malabsorption syndrome among adults & factors differentiating celiac disease & tropical malabsorption. Indian J Med Res. 2012 Sep. 136(3):451-9. [Medline]. [Full Text].

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  10. Cook GC. Aetiology and pathogenesis of postinfective tropical malabsorption (tropical sprue). Lancet. 1984 Mar 31. 1(8379):721-3. [Medline].

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  18. Klipstein FA. Tropical sprue in travelers and expatriates living abroad. Gastroenterology. 1981 Mar. 80(3):590-600. [Medline].

  19. Klipstein FA. Tropical sprue--an iceberg disease?. Ann Intern Med. 1967 Mar. 66(3):622-3. [Medline].

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  21. Kuhlmann FM, Weil GJ. Infectious risks for travelers to the tropics. Mo Med. 2009 Jul-Aug. 106(4):263-8. [Medline].

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  24. Toskes P. Malabsorption. Bennet JC, Plum F, eds. Cecil's Textbook of Medicine. 20th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Co; 1996. 705-6.

 
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Subtotal villous atrophy (H&E, orig. mag. ×10).
Tropical sprue (H&E, orig. mag. ×10).
Endoscopic views of unsuspected celiac disease. A: Absent duodenal folds. B: Mucosal fissures and scalloped folds. C: Scalloped fold.
 
 
 
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