Diagnosis of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in patients with cirrhosis of the liver: poor performance of the glucose breath hydrogen test

J Hepatol. 2000 Sep;33(3):382-6. doi: 10.1016/s0168-8278(00)80273-1.


Background/aims: Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is known to occur in association with cirrhosis of the liver and studies are needed to assess its pathophysiological role. The glucose breath hydrogen test as an indirect test for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth has been applied to patients with cirrhosis but has not yet been validated against quantitative culture of jejunal secretion in this particular patient population.

Methods: Forty patients with cirrhosis underwent glucose breath hydrogen test and jejunoscopy. Jejunal secretions were cultivated quantitatively for aerobe and anaerobe microorganisms.

Results: Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth was detected by culture of jejunal aspirates in 73% of patients, being associated with age and the administration of acid-suppressive therapy. The glucose breath hydrogen test correlated poorly with culture results, sensitivity and specificity ranging from 27%-52% and 36%-80%, respectively.

Conclusions: In patients with cirrhosis, the glucose breath hydrogen test correlates poorly with the diagnostic gold standard for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Until other non-invasive tests have been validated, studies addressing the role of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in patients with cirrhosis should resort to microbiological culture of jejunal secretions.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Breath Tests*
  • Endoscopy, Digestive System
  • Female
  • Glucose*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen / metabolism*
  • Intestine, Small / microbiology*
  • Intestine, Small / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / microbiology*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Hydrogen
  • Glucose