Determining small bowel integrity following drug treatment

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2003 Sep;56(3):284-91. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2125.2003.01942.x.


Intestinal integrity is maintained by a delicate balance between mucosal defence and luminal aggressors that cause damage if exposed to the mucosa. The intestinal barrier function appears to be the gatekeeper for controlling this balance. It is becoming increasingly clear that if the intestinal barrier is disrupted the consequences are low grade intestinal inflammation which carry with it the risk of significant blood and protein loss both of which may cause clinical management problems. We review the strength and weaknesses of methods for assessing small bowel function that are useful for assessing drug-induced intestinal toxicity. There are a number of imaging methods for assessing intestinal integrity but these do not provide functional information. Intestinal permeability measurements have been optimized for specificity and there are now ways of measuring intestinal permeability regionally, but marker analyses continue to be cumbersome. Recent developments of faecal inflammatory markers make it a matter of routine to assess this in any routine chemical pathology laboratory. Bleeding, protein loss and other complications of inflammation can also be measured with good specificity, but again the methods are cumbersome. Using a combination of functional and imaging techniques it is now possible to characterize and define with precision, the small bowel side-effects of drugs, the best example being the small bowel side-effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Enteritis / chemically induced*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / drug effects
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Intestine, Small / drug effects*
  • Permeability


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal