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Protein-losing enteropathy

Protein-losing enteropathy is an abnormal loss of protein from the digestive tract. It can also refer to the inability of the digestive tract to absorb proteins.

Causes

There are many causes of protein-losing enteropathy. Conditions that cause serious inflammation in the intestines can lead to protein loss. Some of these are:

  • Bacteria or parasite infection of the intestines
  • Celiac sprue
  • Crohn disease
  • HIV infection
  • Lymphoma
  • Lymphatic obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract
  • Intestinal lymphangiectasia

Symptoms

Symptoms can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling

Symptoms will depend on the disease that is causing the problem.

Exams and Tests

You may need tests that look at the intestinal tract. These may include a CT scan of the abdomen or an upper GI bowel series.

Other tests you may need include:

  • Colonoscopy
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
  • Small intestine biopsy
  • Alpha-1-antitrypsin test
  • Small bowel capsule endoscopy
  • CT or MR enterography

Treatment

The health care provider will treat the condition that caused protein-losing enteropathy.

References

El-Omar E, McLean MH. Gastroenterology. In: Ralston SH, Penman ID, Strachan MWJ, Hobson RP, eds. Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 21.

Greenwald DA. Protein losing gastroenteropathy. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 31.

Review Date 7/16/2020

Updated by: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.