Whipple disease is a rare condition that mainly affects the small intestine. This prevents the small intestine from allowing nutrients to pass into the rest of the body. This is called malabsorption.
Whipple disease is caused by infection with a form of bacteria called Tropheryma whipplei. The disorder mainly affects white men of middle-age.
Whipple disease is very rare. Risk factors are not known.
Symptoms most often start slowly. Joint pain is the most common early symptom. Symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) infection often occur several years later. Other symptoms may include:
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may show:
Tests to diagnose Whipple disease may include:
This disease may also change the results of the following tests:
People with Whipple 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 medicines may be changed.
Your provider should closely follow your progress. Symptoms of the disease can return after you finish the treatments. People who remain malnourished will also need to take dietary supplements.
If not treated, the condition is most often fatal. Treatment relieves symptoms and can cure the disease.
Complications may include:
Call your provider if you have:
If you are being treated for Whipple disease, call your provider if:
Maiwald M, von Herbay A, Relman DA. Whipple disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 109.
Marth T, Schneider T. Whipple disease. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 210.
West SG. Systemic diseases in which arthritis is a feature. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 259.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 5/27/2020
Reviewed By: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Aria - Jefferson Health Torresdale, Jefferson Digestive Diseases Network, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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