Whipple disease is caused by a rare bacterial infection and usually affects the digestive system and joints. Whipple disease makes normal digestion difficult because the body's ability to break down foods and absorb nutrients is impaired. Some patients have their eyes, heart, brain, and other organs affected. If Whipple disease isn't treated, it can cause serious complications or even death. With that said, a typical antibiotic course should be enough to treat the disease. The symptoms usually develop over a period of multiple years.
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Fatigue And Weakness
It's common for patients with Whipple disease to experience fatigue and weakness. Whipple disease patients don't absorb their food fully. Their systems have trouble breaking down carbohydrates and fats, and the digestive tract struggles to absorb nutrients from food. As the malabsorption continues, this leads to issues because of the lack of vitamins and nutrients being metabolized. Individuals need vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. An inadequate amount of these foods will lead to a lack of energy and weakness. Food is vital for energy and strength both in the body and mind. Some Whipple disease patients may also lose weight without explanation because they aren't absorbing the same number of calories they're consuming.
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Since the digestive system is most commonly affected, the most characteristic symptoms of Whipple disease occur in the digestive tract. Whipple disease patients may have chronic diarrhea, which may sometimes be bloody. They may also experience abdominal cramping and pain. This might become worse after meals, since the body is trying unsuccessfully to break down food. When the food isn't digested and absorbed properly, there's often pain as the undigested portions move through the intestines. Cramping in the abdomen and diarrhea are usually the symptoms that cause patients to seek a diagnosis, but other symptoms may develop before the gastrointestinal symptoms become apparent.
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Individuals with Whipple disease may experience joint inflammation, especially in the wrists, knees, and ankles. Studies have shown between forty and eighty percent of Whipple disease patients present with inflammation of the joints. There have been multiple cases where joint-related symptoms began before any gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms may mimic those of rheumatoid arthritis, and some patients have been misdiagnosed before their digestive symptoms developed. Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis treatments won't help Whipple disease patients and can even worsen the condition. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking the joints, so typical treatments suppress the immune system. Whipple disease is caused by bacteria, so antibiotics are necessary to treat the condition.
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An enlarged spleen is an uncommon symptom of Whipple disease, but it has occurred in some cases. The spleen is part of the body's lymph system. It produces white blood cells that engulf foreign matter, dead tissue, and bacteria to remove them from the body. The average spleen is about the size of an adult's fist. However, an enlarged spleen is a sign it is overactive. The spleen is likely still doing its job, but may be destroying and removing too many blood cells. With Whipple disease, an enlarged spleen is a reaction to the bacterial infection. This symptom can also occur with inflammatory diseases, viral and parasitic infections, and certain cancers.
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Whipple disease patients may develop neurological symptoms, such as memory loss or confusion. It can sometimes be difficult to diagnose the cause of these symptoms, especially in older patients. Individuals with this condition may also have difficulty with walking. There may be some level of visual impairment, including uncontrolled movement of the eyes. Neurological symptoms are serious, as they indicate the disease has spread to the patient's central nervous system. Damage to the central nervous system can be irreversible. Most of the deaths caused by Whipple disease occur because the condition wasn't treated before irreversible brain damage occurred. It's important for people experiencing neurological symptoms to see their doctor as soon as possible. Even if Whipple disease isn't the cause, prompt diagnosis and treatment of neurological issues is key to stopping symptom progression.