Whipple’s disease

Whipple’s disease is brought about by the Tropheryma whipplei bacteria and affects the digestive tract but can spread to other body parts. It is an uncommon disease but can be dangerous.

It is believed that there is a hereditary predisposition to the development of the disease. The risk is high in areas with poor sanitation or lack of access to freshwater. Even today, there is no proven way to prevent the disease.

What are the associated symptoms?

Whipple’s disease prevents the body from absorbing nutrients properly. Due to this, it can affect different body parts and linked to a variety of symptoms. In the advanced phases, the infection can spread from the intestines to other organs such as the brain, lungs, heart, eyes and joints.

The usual signs of Whipple’s disease include:

  • Chronic diarrhea that can be streaked with blood
  • Chronic joint pain
  • Stomach pain with bloating
  • Evident weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Diminished vision and eye pain
  • Anemia

Some of the following signs might not always be present but might be a sign that the condition is worsening such as:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Skin discoloration
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic cough
    Whipple’s disease

    An aggressive course of antibiotics is generally the initial step in treatment including 2 weeks of intravenous antibiotics.

  • Heart failure
  • Pericarditis
  • Poor vision
  • Heart murmur
  • Numbness
  • Dementia
  • Insomnia
  • Tics
  • Muscular weakness
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty walking

Management of Whipple’s disease

An aggressive course of antibiotics is generally the initial step in treatment including 2 weeks of intravenous antibiotics. Additionally, the individual is on daily antibiotics for 1-2 years.

Other treatment options include:

  • Ingesting the correct amount of fluids
  • Antimalarial drugs for 12-18 months
  • Iron supplements for anemia
  • Vitamin D and K, calcium and magnesium supplements
  • High-calorie diet to help with nutrient absorption
  • Corticosteroids to lessen the inflammation
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Whipple’s disease is a form of bacterial infection that can be deadly if not properly treated.

What is the long-term outlook?

Once treatment is started, most of the symptoms will settle in a month. It is recommended to continue taking the antibiotics since relapses are common. If they occur, additional signs such as neurological issues might manifest.

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