Chronic diarrhoea is frequent in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) but has been poorly investigated so far. We report four patients with AIDS in whom diarrhoea and malabsorption were outstanding features, and who underwent extensive digestive investigations. Diarrhoea was a presenting symptom in all subjects and was of secretory type in three of them. D-xylose and vitamin B12 were malabsorbed in all cases; steatorrhea was found in the two patients who could ingest significant amounts of fat. Faecal alpha 1-antitrypsin clearance was increased in all subjects. Search for digestive pathogens showed unusual protozoans in all patients: in case 1, optical and electron microscopy revealed the presence in the cytoplasm of villous enterocytes of Microsporidia protozoans still unreported in AIDS. Stool and jejunal fluid examination showed Isospora belli in case 2 and Cryptosporidium in cases 3 and 4. On histological and ultrastructural study the former was localised in the cytoplasm of a few enterocytes and the latter was scattered throughout the villus and crypt brush border. Otherwise small intestinal histology only showed minor non-specific changes and the enterocytes were ultrastructurally normal. In patient 3 the slow marker intestinal perfusion technique showed a profuse fluid secretion in the duodenum and proximal jejunum. All patients needed prolonged total parenteral nutrition. Cryptosporidium and Microsporidia could not be eradicated despite multiple drug trials. Isospora belli was transiently cured by pyrimethamine-sulphadiazine. Only patient 2 is presently at home, and patients 1, 3, and 4 died after two, six, and nine months of total parenteral nutrition, respectively.
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