Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Whipple’s Disease

  • Laurie Rosenblum, MPH
Publication Type:


Whipple’s Disease

(Intestinal Lipodystrophy)


Whipple’s disease is a rare disease that can hurt the small intestine's walls. It can be deadly if it is not treated.


Whipple’s disease is caused by a bacteria that disturbs the villi on the small intestine wall. The villis are folds in the intestines that help soak up vitamins and other things from food. In Whipple’s disease the villi cannot soak up these things so the rest of the body is not getting what it needs.

It is not clear how a person gets the bacteria that causes Whipple's disease. Not everyone who gets the bacteria will get Whipple's disease. It is also not clear why some people who have the bacteria get Whipple’s disease and others do not.
Cross Section of Intestine with Villi.

Intestine Cross sectionhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=67496749cross_section_intestine.jpgIntestine Cross sectionNULLjpgIntestine Cross sectionNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\cross_section_intestine.jpgNULL117NULL2008-01-09400368300300Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Whipple’s disease is more common in men 30 to 80 years of age.

A person may be at higher risk of getting it if they are around sewage or soil.


Symptoms may start slowly and happen in stages. Early on a person may have:

  • Pain in the joints
  • Fever

Whipple's is often not found until years later when a person has more issues such as:

  • Pain and bloating in the belly
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatty, foul-smelling stools
  • Bleeding from the intestines
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue (often from anemia )
  • Cough and chest pain
  • Skin that gets darker
  • Swollen lymph glands

The longer a person goes without getting the vitamins and other things they need from their food, the worse they can feel. Without treatment they can have problems with their heart, brain, lungs, eyes, or skin.

Whipple’s disease can be deadly if it is not treated.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:

  • Stool and Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to look for the bacteria that causes Whipple's disease
  • Endoscopy with small bowel biopsies to look for changes in the intestine walls
  • CT scan to look for problems in the intestine or other places that have problems, such as the heart or joints


The goal of treatment is to get rid of the infection so the body can soak up vitamins again. Antibiotics can cure Whipple's disease. Often, more than 1 antibiotic is used for a long time.

Other treatment might also be needed to give a person the things they were not getting from their food. These may include giving:

  • Fluids
  • Electrolytes—salts and other things the heart and brain need to work well
  • Iron
  • Folate
  • Vitamins A, B12, D, E, and K
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium


Whipple's disease cannot be prevented.





  • Tropheryma whippeli (Whipple’s disease). Antimicrobe website. Available at: http://www.antimicrobe.org/m07.asp. Accessed May 19, 2022.
  • Whipple disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/condition/whipple-disease. Accessed May 19, 2022.
  • Whipple disease. National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/whipple-disease/. Accessed May 19, 2022.


  • Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.