The 13C-xylose breath test for the diagnosis of small bowel bacterial overgrowth in children

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1997 Aug;25(2):153-8. doi: 10.1097/00005176-199708000-00005.


Background: We evaluated the clinical utility of the 13C-xylose breath test for the diagnosis of small bowel bacterial overgrowth in children.

Methods: To determine the optimal dose of 13C-xylose, 29 healthy children, 3 to 12 years old, were randomly assigned to receive one of three doses of 13C-xylose (10, 25, or 50 mg). After an overnight fast, the oral dose of 13C-xylose was administered, and breath samples were collected every 30 minutes for 4 hours. Samples were analyzed for 13CO2 by gas chromatography with mass spectrometry. Using the 50 mg dose, we then performed nine breath tests with concurrent duodenal bacterial cultures in 6 children, 3 to 12 years old, with short-bowel syndrome (n = 2), immunodeficiency states (n = 1), and motility disorders (n = 3).

Results: Excretion of 13CO2 in breath peaked at 2.5 hours in all three control groups. The 50-mg dose produced the highest median peak and the smallest range of 13CO2 excretion in breath within each time period. The time of peak 13CO2 excretion in breath varied among the diseased children; however, the six patients with small-bowel bacterial overgrowth (2 x 10(5)-3.5 x 10(5) gram negative rods) all had peak 13CO2 that exceeded the maximum breath 13CO2 level in breath of the control subjects at the corresponding time period (100% sensitivity). Of the three patients with negative cultures, two had negative breath test results and one had positive results (67% specificity). One subject had normalization of both duodenal culture and breath test results after antibiotic treatment of small-bowel bacterial overgrowth.

Conclusions: Our preliminary results suggest that with a dose of 50 mg 13C-xylose, breath test results reliably predict small-bowel bacterial overgrowth in susceptible children.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Breath Tests / methods
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Intestinal Diseases / microbiology
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism
  • Intestine, Small / microbiology*
  • Male
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Xylose* / administration & dosage
  • Xylose* / metabolism


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Xylose