Objective: To evaluate the frequency of small-bowel bacterial overgrowth (SBBO) as a cause of chronic digestive symptoms in a large cohort of children, using the glucose breath hydrogen test (BHT).
Design: Patients were 53 children (aged 2 months to 12 years) with chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, or both. Diagnosis of SBBO was defined with a BHT by a change in H2 concentration of 10 ppm H2 or more in expired air after an oral glucose load. Patients with a positive BHT result were included in group 1 and treated with a combination of colistin and metronidazole for 10 days; a second BHT was performed 1 month later. Group 2 comprised patients with a negative BHT result. Group 3 (n = 15) was a control group of healthy subjects, and group 4 (n = 6) a comparison group of subjects with bacteriologically documented SBBO.
Results: Eighteen patients (34%) had a positive BHT result and 35 a negative result. The BHT results were comparable in groups 1 and 4 and in groups 2 and 3, respectively. Fasting H2 levels were higher in group 1 than in groups 2 (p < 0.001) and 3 (p < 0.01). In group 1, children were younger than in group 2 (1 +/- 1 year vs 3.9 +/- 3 years; p < 0.001) and diarrhea was frequent (83%), but 17% of patients had abdominal pain alone. Fetid stools (p < 0.01), mucus in stools (p < 0.01), and flatulence (p < 0.05) were more frequent in group 1 than in group 2. Antibiotic treatment of children in group 1 led to a rapid disappearance of symptoms and normalization of BHT results.
Conclusion: SBBO appears to be a frequent cause of chronic digestive symptoms in children, especially before the age of 2 years. The BHT provides a simple and noninvasive method of detecting it. The recognition of SBBO in children leads to effective treatment.