Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Whipple’s disease

Whipple's disease is a rare condition that prevents the small intestines from properly absorbing nutrients. This is called malabsorption.

Alternative Names

Intestinal lipodystrophy

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Whipple's disease is caused by infection with a bacteria called Tropheryma whippelii. The disorder mainly affects middle-aged white men.

Whipple's disease is extremely rare. Risk factors are unknown.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually start slowly. Joint paint is the most common initial symptom. After that, often several years later, symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) infection develop. Other symptoms may include:

Signs and tests

The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam. This may show:

Tests to diagnose Whipple's disease may include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC )
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to check for the bacteria that causes the disease
  • Small bowel biopsy
  • Upper GI endoscopy (viewing the intestines with a flexible, lighted tube in a process called enteroscopy )

This disease may also change the results of the following tests:

Treatment

People with Whipple's disease need to take long-term antibiotics to cure any infections of the brain and central nervous system. An antibiotic called ceftriaxone is given through a vein (IV). It is followed by another antibiotic (such as trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) taken by mouth for up to 1 year.

If symptoms come back during antibiotic use, the antibiotic treatment may be changed.

Your health care provider should closely follow your progress, because signs of the disease can return after you finish therapy. Those who have nutritional deficiencies from malabsorption will also need to take dietary supplements.

Expectations (prognosis)

Without treatment, the condition is usually fatal. Treatment relieves symptoms and can cure the disease.

Complications

  • Brain damage
  • Heart valve damage (from endocarditis )
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Symptoms return (which may be because of drug resistance)
  • Weight loss

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have persistent joint pain, abdominal pain, or diarrhea.

If you are being treated for Whipple's disease, call your health care provider if:

  • Symptoms worsen or do not improve
  • Symptoms reappear
  • New symptoms develop

References

Maiwald M, von Herbay A, Relman DA. Whipple’s disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 106.

West SG. Systemic diseases in which arthritis is a feature. In:Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: SaundersElsevier; 2011:chap 283.

Updated: 5/1/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com