Methods for diagnosing bile acid malabsorption: a systematic review

Antonio Carroccio, Francesco Ursini, Giacomo Caio, Antonio Carroccio, Antonio Carroccio, Ivan Lyutakov, Plamen Penchev, Roberto De Giorgio, Umberto Volta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Bile acid malabsorption (BAM) and bile acid-related diarrhea represent an under-recognized cause of chronic diarrhea mainly because of limited guidance on appropriate diagnostic and laboratory tests. We aimed to perform a systematic review of the literature in order to identify and compare the diagnostic accuracy of different diagnostic methods for patients with BAM, despite a proven gold standard test is still lacking. Methods: A PubMed literature review and a manual search were carried out. Relevant full papers, evaluating the diagnostic accuracy of different methods for BAM, were assessed. Available data were analyzed to estimate the sensitivity and specificity of each published test. Results: Overall, more than one test was considered in published papers on BAM. The search strategy retrieved 574 articles; of these, only 16 were full papers (with a total of 2.332 patients) included in the final review. Specifically, n = 8 studies used 75Selenium-homotaurocholic-acid-test (75SeHCAT) with a < 10% retention threshold; n = 8 studies evaluated fasting serum 7-α-hydroxy-4-cholesten-3-one (C4); n = 3 studies involved total fecal bile acid (BA) excretion over 48 h; n = 4 studies assessed fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19). 75SeHCAT showed an average sensitivity and specificity of 87.32 and 93.2%, respectively, followed by serum C4 (85.2 and 71.1%) and total fecal BA (66.6 and 79.3%). Fasting serum FGF19 had the lowest sensitivity and specificity (63.8 and 72.3%). All the extracted data were associated with substantial heterogeneity. Conclusions: Our systematic review indicates that 75SeHCAT has the highest diagnostic accuracy for BAM, followed by serum C4 assay. The diagnostic yield of fecal BA and FGF19 assays is still under investigation. Our review reinforces the need for novel biomarkers aimed to an objective detection of BAM and therefore improving the management of this condition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-196
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Gastroenterology
Publication statusPublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gastroenterology

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