We performed inpatient balance studies in 11 patients to evaluate the role of carbohydrate malabsorption in the pathogenesis of the diarrhea seen in short bowel syndrome. Stool weight, total reducing substance as measured by Clinitest, and total fecal carbohydrate as measured by anthrone were determined. Patients had markedly increased fecal carbohydrate excretion, up to 65% of dietary carbohydrate intake. When the diet contained oligosaccharides, measures of total reducing substance greatly underestimated fecal carbohydrate excretion and were unreliable for quantitation. Stool weight correlated with total fecal carbohydrate excretion and with total reducing substance (r = 0.79, p less than 0.001). Multiple balance studies in 2 patients suggested a relationship between both the amount and type of dietary carbohydrate and fecal carbohydrate excretion. These studies suggest that carbohydrate malabsorption is a major cause of the watery diarrhea and subsequent fluid, electrolyte, and acid-base imbalance seen in patients with short bowel syndrome.