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Bile acid diarrhoea: pathophysiology, diagnosis and management.

The actual incidence of bile acid diarrhoea (BAD) is unknown, however, there is increasing evidence that it is misdiagnosed in up to 30% with diarrhoea-predominant patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Besides this, it may also occur following cholecystectomy, infectious diarrhoea and pelvic chemoradiotherapy. BAD may result from either hepatic overproduction of bile acids or their malabsorption in the terminal ileum. It can result in symptoms such as bowel frequency, urgency, nocturnal defecation, excessive flatulence, abdominal pain and incontinence of stool. Bile acid synthesis is regulated by negative feedback loops related to the enterohepatic circulation, which are dependent on the farnesoid X receptor and fibroblast growth factor 19. Interruption of these feedback loops is thought to cause bile acid overproduction leading to BAD. This process may occur idiopathically or following a specific trigger such as cholecystectomy. There may also be an interplay with the gut microbiota, which has been reported to be significantly different in patients with severe BAD. Patients with suspected BAD are investigated in various ways including radionucleotide imaging such as SeHCAT scans (though this is not available worldwide) and blood tests. However, other methods such as bile acid measurement in stool (either spot test or 48 hours samples) and urine tests have been explored. Importantly, delay in diagnosis and treatment of BAD greatly affects patient's quality of life and may double the overall cost of diagnosis.

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