Whipple’s disease


The diagnostic process for Whipple disease typically involves:

  • Physical examination: The initial step is a thorough physical examination by your doctor. This involves assessing signs and symptoms indicative of Whipple disease, such as stomach tenderness and skin darkening, especially in sunexposed areas.
  • Biopsy: Diagnosis often relies on a biopsy, typically extracted from the small intestine lining using an upper endoscopya procedure employing a flexible tube with a light and camera. This allows visual inspection of the digestive passages and collection of tissue samples. Microscopic analysis of these samples aims to identify diseasecausing factors such as bacteria and lesions, particularly Tropheryma whipplei bacteria. If initial samples yield inconclusive results, further tests may involve obtaining tissue from enlarged lymph nodes. Alternatively, a noninvasive method entails swallowing a capsule with a small camera, capturing images for examination. Certain medical centers also offer a DNAbased polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test capable of detecting Tropheryma whipplei bacteria in biopsy specimens or spinal fluid samples.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests, including a complete blood count, may be ordered by your doctor. These tests can identify specific conditions associated with Whipple disease, particularly anemia (a reduction in red blood cell count) and low levels of albumin, a protein in the blood.


Whipple disease is effectively treated with antibiotics, either as a singular therapy or in combination, targeting the bacteria responsible for the infection. The treatment plan is typically extensive, lasting one to two years, with the primary goal of eradicating the bacteria. However, patients often experience symptom relief relatively quickly, sometimes within the initial weeks of treatment. Individuals without complications in the brain or nervous system tend to achieve full recovery after completing the prescribed course of antibiotics

When selecting antibiotics, medical professionals prioritize those capable of eliminating infections in the small intestine while also penetrating the bloodbrain barrier. This dual action helps eradicate bacteria that may have entered the brain and central nervous system. Due to the prolonged use of antibiotics, continuous monitoring by a healthcare provider is essential to detect and address any potential development of drug resistance. In cases of relapse during treatment, adjustments to the antibiotic regimen may be necessary to ensure the most effective therapeutic outcome.

  • Treatment for standard cases: The standard treatment for Whipple disease typically involves an initial two to four weeks of intravenous ceftriaxone or penicillin, followed by an oral course of sulfamethoxazoletrimethoprim for one to two years. Potential side effects of these medications may include allergic reactions, mild diarrhea, or nausea and vomiting. In certain cases, an alternative regimen may consist of oral doxycycline combined with the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, to be taken for one to two years, with possible side effects such as loss of appetite, nausea, sensitivity to sunlight, diarrhea, headache, stomach cramps, and dizziness. Regular monitoring and consultation with a healthcare professional are important during the course of treatment.
  • Symptom relief: Symptoms of Whipple’s disease typically show improvement within one to two weeks of initiating antibiotic treatment and generally resolve completely within a month. However, despite the rapid symptomatic improvement, subsequent laboratory tests may reveal the persistence of bacteria for up to two years after starting antibiotics. Followup testing is essential for determining the appropriate duration of antibiotic therapy, and regular monitoring helps identify any potential development of drug resistance, evident by a lack of symptom improvement. Even after successful treatment, there is a risk of recurrence, necessitating regular checkups and, if a recurrence occurs, a repetition of antibiotic therapy.
  • Taking supplements: Due to challenges in nutrient absorption linked to Whipple’s disease, your healthcare provider may advise supplementing with vitamins and minerals to maintain proper nutrition. Additional intake of vitamin D, folic acid, calcium, iron, and magnesium might be necessary to address potential deficiencies and support overall health.