Sprue is a disorder in which the intestines are unable to absorb nutrients from food. It can cause loss of appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, muscle cramps, pale skin, and bone pain.
Sprue occurs in two forms: tropical and nontropical.
Tropical sprue affects people who live in tropical areas. Its exact cause is not clear, but it likely results from a viral or bacterial infection of the lining of the intestine and, possibly, poor nutrition. Tropical sprue is treated by taking antibiotics for 3 months to 1 year along with vitamin supplements.
Nontropical sprue, usually called celiac disease or celiac sprue, may begin to cause symptoms when foods containing gluten are introduced into the diets of infants. Some people may not have symptoms until later in life. This type of sprue is treated by permanently adopting a strict gluten-free diet. This means a person cannot eat foods that contain gluten, which is a form of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.