Small-bowel bacterial overgrowth in elderly people: clinical significance and response to treatment

Age Ageing. 1992 Jan;21(1):13-9. doi: 10.1093/ageing/21.1.13.


Duodenal-jejunal bacterial overgrowth is increasingly recognized in old age but its clinical significance is poorly defined. In this study, 16 elderly subjects were selected on the basis of an abnormal lactulose breath hydrogen test from a series of 27 in whom there was some reason to suspect malabsorption. In 12 of these 16 cases, pentagastrin tests showed normal gastric acid secretion and in 12 cases the small bowel was radiologically normal. Nutritional assessment, anthropometric measurements, culture of small-bowel aspirates, 14C-triolein breath tests and blood xylose tests were performed before and after 4 to 6 months of cyclical antibiotic therapy. Initially all patients except two showed evidence of malabsorption. After antibiotic treatment alone, 13 patients gained in weight and body fat. There were significant rises in the mean levels of haemoglobin, serum protein and calcium. Blood xylose test levels increased in 14 cases, reaching normal in all except one, whereas 14C-triolein excretion also increased in 14 and reached normal in 12 out of 16 cases. The breath hydrogen test reverted to normal in all cases and bacterial overgrowth was eliminated in 10 out of 11. The mouth-to-caecum transit time was prolonged initially (mean 190 min) and was unaffected by therapy (mean 196 min). Malabsorption and undernutrition are significant features of small-bowel overgrowth in the elderly and can be specifically corrected by antibiotic treatment. The clinical effect can be equally severe in elderly patients with or without an anatomical defect of the small bowel.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Breath Tests
  • Colony Count, Microbial*
  • Female
  • Gastric Acidity Determination
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / physiology
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology
  • Intestine, Small / microbiology*
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / microbiology
  • Male
  • Nutrition Assessment