Between 1982 and 1989, the seven day retention of 75SeHCAT was measured in 181 patients with chronic diarrhoea that remained unexplained after full investigation. Altogether 121 of the 181 had a seven day 75SeHCAT retention greater than or equal to 15% and thus had no evidence of abnormal bile acid turnover. Twenty one had a seven day 75SeHCAT retention greater than or equal to 10% but less than 15%. Their clinical features were typical of the irritable bowel syndrome, and none of eight treated with cholestyramine showed symptomatic improvement. Sixteen patients had a seven day retention greater than or equal to 5% and less than 10%, six of whom had improved symptoms after treatment with bile acid chelating agents. The remaining 23 patients had a 75SeHCAT retention of less than 5% at seven days and responded to bile acid chelators. This group had a characteristic illness with intermittent watery diarrhoea, but no constitutional upset. It was not possible to distinguish the patients with bile acid malabsorption exclusively on the basis of the clinical symptoms and investigations, other than 75SeHCAT retention. We conclude that the measurement of 75SeHCAT retention is useful, appropriate, and necessary in patients with unexplained chronic diarrhoea.
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