Whipple disease: Symptoms, causes, and diagnosis

Whipple disease is a rare infectious bacterial disease. This intestinal disease can cause multiple infections in different organs, and it can be fatal if left untreated.

Treatment with antibiotics is possible, but some patients relapse and need long-term treatment.

It is named after George Whipple, who discovered the bacteria in 1907.

Men are more susceptible than women, and 87 percent of people with Whipple disease are men aged between 40 and 60 years.

In the United States, Whipple disease affects fewer than one in every million people each year. In developing countries, it is more prominent, especially among children who live in areas where the sanitation system is poor.

However, it is more common elsewhere. In Senegal, In 2011, it was reported that nearly 44 percent of children aged between 2 and 10 years had the bacteria in their stools.

Symptoms

[Whipple causes weight loss]
Whipple disease causes weight loss and diarrhea.

Symptoms of Whipple vary widely among patients. The most common signs of the disease are weight loss and diarrhea.

Malabsorption can lead to weight loss, because the body cannot absorb nutrients through the bloodstream.

Other symptoms include:

stomach pain

weakness

fatigue

anemia

a darkening or graying of skin exposed to the sun

Endocarditis has been reported in a small number of cases. Sometimes it is the only symptom of Whipple disease.

Symptoms of endocarditis include breathlessness and swelling of the legs due to fluid buildup. The heart becomes inflamed and cannot pump fluid through the body.

Whipple disease can progress to the central nervous system (CNS).

If this occurs, a person begins to experience:

insomnia

vision issues such as uveitis

hearing loss

dementia

memory problems and changes in personality

facial numbness

loss of mobility and difficulty walking

various eye problems may occur, such as uveitis

The disease at this stage can become fatal.

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Causes

A bacterial organism called Tropheryma Whipplei (T. Whipplei) causes Whipple disease by severely infecting the lining of the small intestine.

This infection can then spread to the heart, lung, brain, joints, and eyes. Whipple can affect any system of the body but presents most often in the small intestine.

The disease creates lesions on the wall of the small intestine and thickens the tissue. The tiny, finger-like protrusions from the wall that help absorb nutrients, called villi, are destroyed.

Individuals most likely to contract the disease are those with decreased ability to break down proteins and particles.

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