The value of serum bile acids (SBA) in the diagnosis of hepatobiliary disease has been investigated. A modified GLC method was used, with an overall coefficient of variation of +/- 11% in the control range. Serum was obtained after a 12 hour fast, and two hours after a fatty meal from 73 patients and 14 control subjects. In controls the total fasting SBA of 2.17 +/- 0.86 mumol/l increased significantly (p less than 0.001) to 3.81 +/- 1.14 mumol/l after a meal. All icteric patients had raised SBA, but in 23 anicteric patients there was no significant difference in the detection of chronic liver disease by fasting SBA, postprandial SBA, AST, or gamma GTP. Compared with controls, serum in patients contained proportionately less deoxycholic acid (p less than 0.001), there was proportionately more cholic acid in extrahepatic obstruction (p less than 0.001), and proportionately more chenodeoxycholic acid in patients with cirrhosis, viral hepatitis, and neoplasia (p less than 0.001). In control subjects, the fasting cholic:chenodeoxycholic acid ratio ranged from 0.5-1.0, and differed significantly (p less than 0.001) from patients with extrahepatic obstruction 0.96-3.6, and cirrhosis 0.1-0.5. It is concluded that serum bile acids measured by sensitive methods can provide useful diagnostic information.
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