What is the pathophysiology of secretory diarrhea?

Updated: Jan 31, 2020
  • Author: Stefano Guandalini, MD; Chief Editor: Carmen Cuffari, MD  more...
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Answer

In secretory diarrhea, the epithelial cells’ ion transport processes are turned into a state of active secretion. The most common cause of acute-onset secretory diarrhea is a bacterial infection of the gut. Several mechanisms may be at work. After colonization, enteric pathogens may adhere to or invade the epithelium; they may produce enterotoxins (exotoxins that elicit secretion by increasing an intracellular second messenger) or cytotoxins. They may also trigger release of cytokines attracting inflammatory cells, which, in turn, contribute to the acti­vated secretion by inducing the release of agents such as prostaglandins or platelet-activating factor. Features of secretory diarrhea include a high purg­ing rate, a lack of response to fasting, and a normal stool ion gap (ie, 100 mOsm/kg or less), indicating that nutrient absorption is intact.


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