Chronic Diarrhea May Be Caused by a Hormone Deficiency

The results from a new British study published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, are showing that a common type of chronic diarrhea called idiopathic bile acid diarrhea may be caused by a hormone deficiency. (Chronic diarrhea is generally defined as having one or more loose stools a day that lasts for at least four weeks.) The hormone, fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19), controls production of bile acid, which is produced by enzymes in the liver to help the body digest fats. In bile acid diarrhea, diarrhea occurs when an overload of bile acid reaches the colon, causing the secretion of excess water into the bowel. Sufferers of the problem can have as many ten watery bowel movements a day, for months at a time. Since the need to use the bathroom is so frequent and urgent, the disorder can place great restrictions on the lifestyle and work life of the people affected by the disorder.

The researchers of the study said that their test results could help make doctors more aware of this type of diarrheal condition. It may also lead to the development of better tests to measure people's FGF19 hormone levels to diagnose the problem, as well as new hormone-based treatments. These treatments would increase production of FGF19 and reduce the amount of bile acid being made in patients suffering from the problem, so they can regain a normal life.

Because the number of study volunteers in the British study was small (just 17 patients diagnosed with bile acid diarrhea and 19 healthy control subjects), more research needs to be done to confirm the results.

Complications from Excessive Diarrhea

Severe diarrhea can have serious repercussions on your health, including dehydration- in which the body has lost too much fluid-malnutrition and weight loss. The signs of dehydration include increasing thirst, dry mouth, weakness or lightheadedness or a darkening in color or decreasing amount of urination. In extreme cases, dehydration can lead to changes in the body's chemistry (electrolytes), resulting in kidney failure, neurological symptoms, arthritis and skin problems and could even be life-threatening.

Chronic diarrhea is a common symptom in such inflammatory bowel diseases as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

When to See Your Doctor

Make an appointment with you doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Diarrhea for more than three days
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • Fever of 102 degrees or higher
  • Blood in your stool
  • Signs of dehydration