What is Habba syndrome?

Habba syndrome is a term created by Dr. Saad F. Habba. It’s based on the theory that functional diarrhea and diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D) are umbrella terms for other medical conditions that can, and should be, individually diagnosed and treated.

According to Dr. Habba, one potential cause of the symptoms of functional diarrhea and diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D) is a dysfunctional gallbladder.

Gallbladder dysfunction that leads to too much bile in the intestines (which in turn causes diarrhea) is known as the Habba syndrome.

Most likely, the primary reason you’ve not heard of Habba syndrome is because it’s not recognized as a disease. Currently, it’s a title for Dr. Habba’s observations from his 2011 study.

These observations include:

  • 50% of cases treated by gastroenterology specialists are for diarrhea predominant (IBS-D) and functional diarrhea. These conditions constitute a notable proportion of a primary physicians practice as well.
  • 98% of patients had a final diagnosis that were not IBS.
  • 68% of studied patients had bile acid abnormalities (or related conditions) that were able to be treated
  • 98% of the patients with treatable bile acid related conditions showed a favorable response to therapy. This figure is notably higher than commonly accepted for symptomatic response in IBS.

Habba syndrome has not been recognized as an actual medical disease. However, research has identified bile acids as having a role in some cases of IBS-D.

Bile acid diarrhea

Bile acid diarrhea (BAD) is a condition characterized by excess bile acids present in the colon.

While Habba syndrome is focused on gallbladder dysfunction, BAD looks at specific items that might be causing the troubles with bile acids. These items are produced in the liver and hold key roles in the absorption of lipids in the small intestine.

The symptoms of Habba syndrome have been identified as:

  • postprandial diarrhea (after eating)
  • dysfunctional gallbladder (radiological testing)
  • lack of response to standard IBS therapy
  • positive response to bile acid binding agents

The Habba syndrome theory is based on excess bile in the gastrointestinal tract. Since it’s related to a dysfunctional gallbladder, treatment is focused on changing the bile acids to minimize their diarrheal effect.

Dr. Habba and BAD researchers both suggest the use of acid binding agents such as:

To determine the cause of your diarrhea, talk with your primary care doctor. They may recommend that you speak with a gastroenterologist.

Diagnostic testing for Habba syndrome may include:

Further testing might be recommended to rule out:

To specifically diagnose Habba syndrome, doctors may review gallbladder function by using a study known as a DISIDA scan (nuclear medicine X-ray) with CCK injection.

Whether or not Habba syndrome is a medical disease, it has drawn attention to the possible umbrella diagnoses of functional diarrhea and IBS-D.

If you’re experiencing chronic diarrhea — defined as loose stools that continue for at least four weeks — talk to your doctor about testing for conditions such as bile acid diarrhea (BAD). Ask their opinion about gall bladder testing for your specific situation.