What Causes Habba Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Mecomber
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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Habba syndrome is debilitating chronic diarrhea caused by a dysfunctional gallbladder. It is named for Dr. Saad Habba, whose study on chronic diarrhea from dysfunctional gallbladder was published in the August 2000 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology. His study suggests that a dysfunctional gallbladder that fills the digestive tract with excessive bile stimulates the colon to rapidly and frequently release bowel contents.

Normally, the gallbladder stores bile that has been produced by the liver. The gallbladder secretes the bile into the intestines to digest fats. Too little or too much bile cause various digestive problems, which are more or less severe depending on the patient's constitution. Gallstones, blocked bile ducts or inflammation inhibit normal gallbladder function. Habbas syndrome is caused when the dysfunctional gallbladder produces excessive bile, leading to chronic diarrhea.

Chronic diarrhea is an embarrassing and debilitating disorder for millions of people. It also can lead to extreme fatigue and ill health from the bowel's inability to absorb proper nutrients from the diet. Dr. Habba was approached by several patients complaining of chronic diarrhea immediately after meals. Originally diagnosed with and treated for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), these patients experienced little to no improvement in their condition.


Dr. Habba performed studies on various patients, taking note of the common maladies that afflicted them: chronic diarrhea after meals, fear to leave the home for fear of bowel incontinence, failure to improve with standard IBS therapy and radiological testing that reveals gallbladder dysfunction. Dr. Habba noticed that, unlike IBS sufferers, these patients experienced no bowel pain or intestinal cramping — only urgent and sometimes explosive diarrhea.

Habba prescribed cholestyramine, a drug distributed to patients after gallbladder removal. His patients experienced immediate relief. Dr. Habba formulated a theory that patients with intact but dysfunctional gallbladders suffered from this chronic diarrhea, which he called Habba syndrome. Bile acid binding agents such as cholestyramine, colesevelam and colestipol bind gallbladder bile in the intestinal tract, preventing reabsorption. Sufferers from Habba syndrome who are put on the drug therapy have shown improvement almost immediately.

According to Dr. Habba, more than 40 percent of patients in his study who had been diagnosed with IBS suffer from Habba syndrome. As of 2011, Habba syndrome was a medical theory requiring more studies. Sufferers of chronic diarrhea from gallbladder dysfunction, however, have found relief with bile acid binding agents and have gained the ability to function in life once again.


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