A double-lumen perfusion technique has been used to investigate jejunal and ileal absorption of glucose, water, and electrolytes in a group of patients with untreated adult coeliac disease. Correct positioning of the tube was confirmed by measuring the differential jejunal and ileal handling of bicarbonate. Eight control subjects and eight patients with coeliac disease were perfused with an isotonic electrolyte solution containing 50 mM glucose and 25 mM bicarbonate. The group of coeliac patients had impaired jejunal absorption of glucose (P less than 0.001), water (P less than 0.01), sodium (P less than 0.02), and chloride (P greater than 0.05) compared with the control group. In contrast the group of coeliac patients had normal ileal glucose and water absorption and increased ileal sodium (P greater than 0.01) and chloride (P greater than 0.05) absorption compared with the controls. Evidence for ileal adaptation was found in three individual patients who had absorptive values outside 2SD of the normal mean. The results indicate that the distal small intestine in coeliac disease has the ability to adopt to the damage and loss of absorptive capacity in the proximal small intestine.
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