No available test objectively measures impairment of function of the inflamed colonic mucosa in ulcerative colitis. To study function we assessed rectal bicarbonate output by rectal dialysis in the presence of water and bacterial fatty acid (n-butyrate) in 21 controls, 18 patients with acute ulcerative colitis, 12 patients with ulcerative colitis in remission, and 12 patients with other forms of colitis. In acute ulcerative colitis, compared with controls, bicarbonate output and pH was reduced (p less than 0.001); stimulated bicarbonate output with bacterial fatty acid (incremental bicarbonate output) was reduced by 80% in acute ulcerative colitis (p less than 0.01). Results indicate that bicarbonate output is a useful and selective test of mucosal function in acute ulcerative colitis. A diminished incremental bicarbonate output with n-butyrate supports the view of inadequate oxidation of bacterial fatty acids in vivo by the mucosa in ulcerative colitis. Whether the test will prove to be an index of prognosis or will aid choice between medical or surgical therapy requires further study.
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