Bile acids are compounds that are made in the liver and stored in the gall bladder. Bile acids help with digestion of foods, particularly fat. When food is eaten, the body sends a signal to the gall bladder to contract and push bile acids into the small intestine. The bile acids mix with the food in the intestine and break down large, complex fats into small particles that can be absorbed more easily.
The concentration of bile acids in serum is elevated in patients with many structural liver diseases, due to the inability of the liver to extract bile acids efficiently from portal blood. Metabolic liver diseases such as Gilbert disease, Crigler-Najjar syndrome, or Dubin-Johnson syndrome do not appear to cause elevated bile acid concentrations. Bile acid levels may be altered even when other liver function tests are normal and may serve as a sensitive and specific indicator of liver disease.
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