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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

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In pharmacology, bioavailability is used to describe the fraction of an administered dose of unchanged drug that reaches the systemic circulation, one of the principal pharmacokinetic properties of drugs. By definition, when a medication is administered intravenously, its bioavailability is 100%. However, when a medication is administered via other routes (such as orally), its bioavailability decreases (due to incomplete absorption and first-pass metabolism). Bioavailability is one of the essential tools in pharmacokinetics, as bioavailability must be considered when calculating dosages for non-intravenous routes of administration.


Bioavailability is a measurement of the extent of a therapeutically active drug that reaches the systemic circulation and is available at the site of action.[1]

It is expressed as the letter F.

Absolute bioavailability

Absolute bioavailability measures the availability of the active drug in systemic circulation after non-intravenous administration (i.e., after oral, rectal, transdermal, subcutaneous administration).

In order to determine absolute bioavailability of a drug, a pharmacokinetic study must be done to obtain a plasma drug concentration vs time plot for the drug after both intravenous (IV) and non-intravenous administration. The absolute bioavailability is the dose-corrected area under curve (AUC) non-intravenous divided by AUC intravenous. For example, the formula for calculating F for a drug administered by the oral route (po) is given below.

<math>F = \frac{[AUC]_{po}*dose_{IV}}{[AUC]_{IV}*dose_{po}}</math>

Therefore, a drug given by the intravenous route will have an absolute bioavailability of 1 (F=1) while drugs given by other routes usually have an absolute bioavailability of less than one.

Relative bioavailability

This measures the bioavailability of a certain drug when compared with another formulation of the same drug, usually an established standard, or through administration via a different route. When the standard consists of intravenously administered drug, this is known as absolute bioavailability.

<math>\mathit{relative\ bioavailability} = \frac{[AUC]_{A}*dose_{B}}{[AUC]_{B}*dose_{A}}</math>

Factors influencing bioavailability

The absolute bioavailability of a drug, when administered by an extravascular route, is usually less than one (i.e. F<1). Various physiological factors reduce the availability of drugs prior to their entry into the systemic circulation,

Such factors may include, but are not limited to:

  • poor absorption from the gastro-intestinal tract
  • degradation or metabolism of the drug prior to absorption
  • hepatic first pass effect

Each of these factors may vary from patient to patient, and indeed in the same patient over time. Whether a drug is taken with or without food will affect absorption, other drugs taken concurrently may alter absorption and first-pass metabolism, intestinal motility alters the dissolution of the drug and may affect the degree of chemical degradation of the drug by intestinal microflora. Disease states affecting liver metabolism or gastrointestinal function will also have an effect.

See also


  1. Shargel, L.; Yu, A.B. (1999). Applied biopharmaceutics & pharmacokinetics (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-8385-0278-4

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