An absorption screen was performed in 10 chronic alcoholic patients within a few days of admission due to an acute alcoholic episode. Impaired absorption of d-Xylose was noted in three patients and low leucocyte ascorbic acid and serum folate levels in five. No abnormality was detected in jejunal histology. The absorption of water and electrolytes from the jejunum was studied in these patients using a triple-lumen tube perfusion system. The mean rate of absorption of water in the alcoholic subjects (50-0 +/- 2-3 ml/h) was significantly lower (P less than 0-001) than the mean value in 14 healthy control subjects (205 +/- 15-9 ml/h). A significant reduction of Na+ and Cl-absorption was also demonstrated in the alcoholic subjects. These results indicate that patients with acute-on-chronic alcoholism may have a function impairment of water and electrolyte absorption from the jejunum. This may, in part, account for some of the nutritional deficiencies in such patients and for symptoms such as diarrhoea which may be present.
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