Common signs and symptoms

Gastrointestinal signs and symptoms are common in Whipple's disease and may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping and pain, which may worsen after meals
  • Weight loss, associated with the malabsorption of nutrients

Other frequent signs and symptoms associated with Whipple's disease include:

  • Inflamed joints, particularly your ankles, knees and wrists
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Anemia

Less common signs and symptoms

In some cases, signs and symptoms of Whipple's disease may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Skin darkening (hyperpigmentation) in areas exposed to the sun and in scars
  • Chest pain
  • Enlarged spleen

Neurological signs and symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Visual impairment, including lack of control of eye movements
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss

Symptoms tend to develop slowly over a period of many years in most people with this disease. In some cases, some symptoms, such as joint pain and weight loss, develop years before the gastrointestinal symptoms that lead to diagnosis.

When to see a doctor

Whipple's disease is potentially life-threatening, yet usually treatable. Contact your doctor if you experience unusual signs or symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss or joint pain. Your doctor can perform tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.

Even after the infection is diagnosed and you're receiving treatment, let your doctor know if your symptoms don't improve. Sometimes antibiotic therapy isn't effective because the bacteria are resistant to the particular drug you're taking. The disease can recur, so it's important to watch for the re-emergence of symptoms.

Nov. 20, 2012