Intestinal permeability in children with recurrent respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms

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Increased intestinal permeability has been reported in asthmatic subjects as well as in patients with gastrointestinal disease, thus suggesting the involvement of all the mucosal immune system. We aimed to assess intestinal permeability according to recurrent respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms in children with asthma and children with functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs).


In 108 outpatients aged 3–14 years (45 asthmatic, 63 with FGIDs), we measured the urinary lactulose/mannitol (L/M) ratio, performed allergy skin prick tests and administered questionnaires for recurrent respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms starting from at least 2 months which persisted over the previous 4 weeks. L/M ratios were compared with previously reported normal values yielded by our chromatographic method (liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry).


High L/M ratios (>0.030) were less frequent in asthmatic children than in children with FGIDs (9/45: 20% vs. 41/63: 65%, P < 0.001). High L/M ratios were associated with gastrointestinal symptoms in 8/9 asthmatic (P < 0.05) and 39/41 subjects with FGIDs (P < 0.005). L/M ratios were not associated with respiratory symptoms or atopy. In a regression model, a high L/M was predicted by low height, absence of asthma and presence of gastrointestinal symptoms (r = 0.72, P < 0.001).


Increased intestinal permeability is associated with recurrent gastrointestinal symptoms rather than with recurrent respiratory symptoms in both asthmatic children and those with FGIDs. Our findings do not support the hypothesis of mucosal intestinal damage following an inflammatory stimulus in the respiratory mucosa.

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