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|Patient UK||Tropical sprue|
Tropical sprue is a malabsorption disease commonly found in the tropical regions, marked with abnormal flattening of the villi and inflammation of the lining of the small intestine. It differs significantly from coeliac sprue. It may be a more severe form of environmental enteropathy.
Signs and symptoms
The illness usually starts with an attack of acute diarrhea, fever and malaise following which, after a variable period, the patient settles into the chronic phase of diarrhea, steatorrhea, weight loss, anorexia, malaise and nutritional deficiencies. The symptoms of tropical sprue are:
- Steatorrhea or fatty stool (often foul-smelling and whitish in colour)
- Weight loss and malnutrition
Left untreated, nutrient and vitamin deficiencies may develop in patients with tropical sprue. These deficiencies may have the following symptoms:
- Vitamin A deficiency: hyperkeratosis or skin scales
- Vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies: anaemia
- Vitamin D and calcium deficiencies: spasm, bone pain, numbness and tingling sensation
- Vitamin K deficiency: bruises
Tropical sprue was responsible for one-sixth of all casualties sustained by the Allied forces in India and Southeast Asia during World War II.
The cause of tropical sprue is not known. It has been suggested that it is caused by bacterial, viral, amoebal, or parasitic infection. Folic acid deficiency and rancid fat have also been suggested as possible causes.
In a condition called coeliac disease (also known as coeliac sprue), which has similar symptoms to tropical sprue, the flattening of the villi and small intestine inflammation is caused by an autoimmune disorder triggered by ingested gluten.
Diagnosis of tropical sprue can be complicated because many diseases have similar symptoms. The following investigation results are suggestive:
- Abnormal flattening of villi and inflammation of the lining of the small intestine, observed during an endoscopic procedure.
- Presence of inflammatory cells (most often lymphocytes) in the biopsy of small intestine tissue.
- Low levels of vitamins A, B12, E, D, and K, as well as serum albumin, calcium, and folate, revealed by a blood test.
- Excess fat in the feces (steatorrhoea).
- Thickened small bowel folds seen on barium swallow
Tropical sprue is largely limited to within about 30 degrees north and south of the equator. Therefore, if one resides outside of that geographical region, recent travel to the region is a key factor in diagnosing this disease.
Preventive measures include using only bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth, and washing food, and avoiding fruits washed with tap water (or consuming only peeled fruits, such as bananas and oranges).
Once diagnosed, tropical sprue can be treated by a course of the antibiotic tetracycline or sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (co-trimoxazole) for 3 to 6 months, as well as supplementation of vitamins B12 and folic acid.
The prognosis for tropical sprue is excellent. It usually does not recur in people who get it during travel to affected regions. The recurrence rate for natives is about 20%.
- Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases (8 ed.). 2014. p. 1298. ISBN 9780323263733.
- UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences - History
- Cook GC (March 1997). "Tropical sprue: some early investigators favoured an infective cause, but was a coccidian protozoan involved?". Gut 40 (3): 428–9. doi:10.1136/gut.40.3.428. PMC 1027098. PMID 9135537.
- UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences - History (permanent link: )
- JAMA: DR. SPIES RECEIVES DISTINGUISHED SERVICE MEDAL (1957)
- Bartholomew C (November 1989). "William Hillary and sprue in the Caribbean: 230 years later" (PDF). Gut 30 (Special issue): 17–21. doi:10.1136/gut.30.spec_no.17. PMC 1440696. PMID 2691344.
- InteliHealth - Tropical Sprue
- Health In Plain English - Tropical Sprue
- Malabsorption Syndromes: Tropical Sprue at Merck Manual