Tropical enteropathy, which may be related to tropical sprue, has been described in many developing countries including parts of Africa. The jejunal changes of enteropathy are seen in Rhodesians of all social and racial categories. Xylose excretion, however, is related to socioeconomic status, but not race. Upper socioeconomic Africans and Europeans excrete significantly more xylose than lower socioeconomic Africans. Vitamin B12 and fat absorption are normal, suggesting predominant involvement of the proximal small intestine. Tropical enteropathy in Rhodesia is similar to that seen in Nigeria but is associated with less malabsorption than is found in the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent, and South East Asia. The possible aetiological factors are discussed. It is postulated that the lighter exposure of upper class Africans and Europeans to repeated gastrointestinal infections may accound for their superior xylose absorption compared with Africans of low socioeconomic circumstances. It is further suggested that the milder enteropathy seen in Africa may be explained by a lower prevalence of acute gastroenteritis than in experienced elsewhere in the tropics.
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