As part of a study to assess the possible contribution of lymphoid infiltration of the gastrointestinal mucosa to occult blood loss or malabsorption 20 patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) had a lactulose hydrogen breath test. In 10 cases (50%) a small intestinal peak was detected, suggesting small bowel bacterial overgrowth, and this was confirmed in seven patients by the positive culture of jejunal aspirate. Of the patients with a positive hydrogen breath test, radiological examination showed a duodenal diverticulum in two but no anatomical abnormalities in the other cases. There was no evidence of achlorhydria and transit times were normal. There was no difference in the incidence of hypogammaglobulinaemia among those patients with evidence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and those without. Seven patients with a positive hydrogen breath test, however, had undetectable secretory piece in their jejunal aspirates whereas this was present in all patients with a normal breath test who had local immunoglobulin concentrations measured (p less than 0.05), indicating that the small intestinal bacterial overgrowth may be due to impaired local immunity.
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