Patients with Crohn's disease who suffer from longstanding diarrhoea that does not respond to conventional treatment pose a common clinical problem. Bile acid malabsorption is a possible cause, although its prevalence and clinical importance is unclear. This paper explores the clinical indications for referring patients with Crohn's disease for bile acid assessment and the extent of bile acid malabsorption in this selected group of patients. The selenium labelled bile acid SeHCAT was used to assess the effect of disease on the integrity of the enterohepatic circulation. Altogether 76% of the patients referred for bile acid assessment had longstanding diarrhoea that had not responded to conventional anti-diarrhoeal treatment or an increase in steroid therapy as their sole or predominant symptom. Ninety per cent of patients with bowel resections, almost exclusively ileocaecal, had abnormal SeHCAT retention (< 5% at seven days). Twenty eight per cent of patients with Crohn's disease who had not undergone resection 28% had a SeHCAT retention < 5%, signifying bile acid malabsorption. Nineteen of 22 patients given cholestyramine treatment subsequent to the SeHCAT test had a good symptomatic response. In conclusion, the prevalence of bile acid malabsorption in this selected group with Crohn's disease is sufficiently high to justify performing the SeHCAT test in order to separate the various differential diagnoses.
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