Tests for stool reducing sugars and stool pH are ordered for children with osmotic diarrhea to screen for carbohydrate malabsorption.
We compared the results of the two screening tests, stool reducing sugars and stool pH, with a more definitive result from an intestinal tissue disaccharidase activity assay ordered for pediatric patients (<18 years old). Overall, 159 patients had results for tissue disaccharidase and stool reducing sugars, but only 115 had additional results of stool pH. Forty-six of the 159 patients had mild, moderate, or severe disaccharidase deficiencies. The sensitivity and specificity of the screening tests were calculated for individual disaccharidase deficiencies. In addition, trends of abnormal tissue disaccharidase, stool reducing sugars, and stool pH results were examined in different age groups.
The sensitivities for stool reducing sugars and stool pH were 9% to 28% and specificities were 74% to 81% for individual disaccharidase deficiencies. Infants (0 years of age) had the highest percentage of abnormal results across all three tests; however, the positive predicative values were 54% and 50% for stool reducing sugars and stool pH, respectively.
The screening tests, stool reducing sugars and stool pH, had low sensitivity compared with results of measured tissue disaccharidase activity in pediatric patients. Infants had the highest percentage of abnormal results for all three tests, but the screening tests still performed poorly in that age group. This study suggests that stool reducing sugars and stool pH should not be used as screening tests for carbohydrate malabsorption due to disaccharidase deficiencies in pediatric patients.