The relationships among intestinal permeability, advancing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, and the presence of diarrhoea or weight loss were investigated in 51 HIV patients and 20 healthy controls. Ten patients with untreated coeliac disease were also investigated for comparison. Fasting subjects drank an isosmolar test solution containing D-xylose, lactulose (LL), L-rhamnose (R) and 3-O-methyl-D-glucose. Urine was collected for 5 h, test sugar content being subsequently measured by thin-layer chromatography for the dosing sugars. Intestinal permeability (LL/R excretion ratio) and recovery of D-xylose and 3-O-methyl-D-glucose in urine were abnormal in patients with HIV disease, and especially those with diarrhoea, as they were in coeliac disease. Patients with coeliac disease and HIV disease, especially when diarrhoea and/or weight loss were present, had significantly reduced 5-h excretion of L-rhamnose, D-xylose, and 3-O-methyl-D-glucose. These data indicate that abnormal permeability and reduced intestinal absorption capacity are common in HIV patients, occur at all stages of HIV disease, especially in the presence of diarrhoea, and, with the exception of lactulose permeation, are relatively similar to the alterations seen in coeliac disease.