Risk Factors for Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth in Cystic Fibrosis

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The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of small bowel bacterial overgrowth in patients with pancreatic-insufficient cystic fibrosis (CF) compared with age-matched controls and to identify potential risk factors for small bowel bacterial overgrowth.

Patients and Methods:

Fifty patients, 25 pancreatic-insufficient CF study patients (mean age, 17 y) and 25 gastrointestinal clinic control patients (mean age, 15 y), completed a glucose-hydrogen breath test after an overnight fast. Study patients completed a quality-of-life questionnaire modified from the Cystic Fibrosis Questionnaire. The medical history of each patient was compared with breath test results. A positive breath test was defined as a fasting hydrogen ≥15 ppm or a rise of ≥10 ppm hydrogen over baseline during the test.


The prevalence of positive breath tests was higher in the CF study group (56%) than in the control group (20%) (P = 0.02). The mean fasting hydrogen levels of patients in the study and control groups were 22 and 5 ppm (P = 0.0001). The mean questionnaire scores were not significantly different between breath test–positive and –negative study patients. The use of azithromycin was associated with an increased risk of a positive breath test. Use of laxatives and inhaled ipratropium was associated with a decreased risk of a positive breath test.


Patients with CF were more likely to have elevated fasting hydrogen levels compared with controls. This suggests a high prevalence of small bowel bacterial overgrowth in CF patients. Medications commonly used by CF patients may influence intestinal health.

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