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Gerontology. 2005 Nov-Dec;51(6):396-401.

Small bowel bacterial overgrowth in symptomatic older people: can it be diagnosed earlier?

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  • 1Department of Gastroenterology, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, UK.



In older people, small bowel bacterial overgrowth syndrome may be a common, but under-diagnosed, cause of diarrhoea and nutrient malabsorption. We aim to determine which clinical features and baseline laboratory investigations indicate a high likelihood of small bowel bacterial overgrowth as defined by a positive glucose breath test.


A retrospective analysis of records for all patients referred for glucose breath test over a 6-year period to a teaching hospital.


Out of 197 referrals, 168 patient records were located and analysed (62 male, 106 female; median age 65). Patient characteristics predictive of a positive glucose breath test were: increasing age (p < 0.01), low serum vitamin B12 (p = 0.02), low serum albumin (p = 0.03), previous partial gastrectomy (p < 0.01), previous right hemi-colectomy (p < 0.01), presence of small bowel diverticulae (p = 0.01) and concurrent use of a proton pump inhibitor (p < 0.01). 52.5% (n = 21/40) of patients studied who were over 75 years old versus 21.8% (n = 28/128) of those under 75 years old had a positive glucose breath test (p < 0.01). The median time to diagnosis, from first hospital visit to positive glucose breath test, was 39 weeks.


There is often a significant delay in diagnosis of small bowel bacterial overgrowth. We suggest that this diagnosis should be considered earlier in the investigative algorithm in older patients with indicative symptoms and a predisposing factor (including previous partial gastrectomy, previous right hemi-colectomy, small bowel diverticulae or use of a proton pump inhibitor) or concurring laboratory indices (low vitamin B12 or albumin).

(c) 2005 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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