A dual sugar (mannitol, lactulose) absorption test was evaluated using an iso-osmolar oral dose in two groups of children: a study group of 43 children divided into five subgroups, based on severity of mucosal damage, and a control group of 53 children with histologically normal jejunal biopsy specimens. After an oral dose, the three hour urinary mannitol: lactulose ratios in the control group showed a highly significant positive correlation with body surface area. After correction for the body surface area relationship, a control lower limit was defined by the mean -2SD of the log10 transformed control mannitol: lactulose ratios. Specificity and sensitivity for severe villous atrophy was 98% and 95% respectively but the sensitivity declined rapidly with decreasing degrees of mucosal damage, and the test would not therefore be an adequate screening procedure for all enteropathies. In sequential studies in 18 children, the changes in the mannitol: lactulose ratio were consistent with the changes in mucosal structure induced by gluten challenge or gluten withdrawal. The test may therefore have a role in any sequential study of lesions of the mucosa of the small intestine.
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