AGA Technical Review on the Evaluation of Functional Diarrhea and Diarrhea-Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults.



The evaluation of patients with chronic watery diarrhea represents a diagnostic challenge for clinicians because organic causes, including inflammatory bowel disease, microscopic colitis, and chronic infection, must be differentiated from functional diarrhea and diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. The purpose of this review is to summarize the available evidence on the usefulness of diagnostic tests in such patients.


We searched MEDLINE and EMBASE via OVID, from 1978 until April 2017. We included diagnostic test accuracy studies reporting on the use of fecal and blood tests for the evaluation of adult patients with functional diarrhea, including irritable bowel syndrome. We assessed the risk of bias of included studies using a modified version of the Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies II, and the certainty in the evidence using the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation) approach. We calculated pooled sensitivity and specificity, and the proportion of patients with true and false positive and negative results. We evaluated the following tests: erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, fecal lactoferrin, fecal calprotectin, serologic tests for celiac disease, tests for bile acid diarrhea, the commercially available version of anti-cytolethal distending toxin B and anti-vinculin antibodies, and tests for Giardia infection. We did not evaluate breath tests for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, as they are not part of a standard diarrhea workup.


Thirty-eight studies proved eligible to evaluate 1 or more of these tests. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein were similar at discriminating organic from functional disease, with sensitivity and specificity, respectively, of 0.54-0.78 and 0.46-0.95 for erythrocyte sedimentation rate and 0.73 and 0.78 for C-reactive protein. Among fecal tests, fecal calprotectin in a range of 50-60 μg/g (pooled sensitivity 0.81; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.75-0.86; pooled specificity 0.87; 95% CI, 0.78-0.92) and fecal lactoferrin in a range of 4.0-7.25 μg/g (pooled sensitivity 0.79; 95% CI, 0.73-0.84; pooled specificity 0.93; 95%CI 0.63-0.99) presented the lowest proportion of false-negative results (low certainty in the evidence). Among tests for celiac disease, IgA tissue transglutaminase presented the best diagnostic test accuracy (sensitivity range, 0.79-0.99; specificity range, 0.90-0.99) with moderate certainty in the evidence. Among tests for bile acid diarrhea, the 75selenium homotaurocholic acid test performed better than serum fibroblast growth factor 19 and 7α-hydroxy-4-cholesten-3-one, but is not available in the United States. There was insufficient evidence to recommend serologic tests for irritable bowel syndrome at this time. There are several good diagnostic tests for Giardia infection.


Moderate to low certainty in the evidence indicates that available fecal and blood tests may play a role in the diag