Hydrogen Breath Test

As we all know, IBS can be difficult to diagnose and treat. I think it's safe to say most of us have had some awful experiences with physicians, and probably medications as well. It's so troublesome getting physicians to do actual tests to help rule out other underlying conditions, in order to help come up with an IBS diagnosis.

What is a hydrogen breath test?

A test that can be used to rule out other conditions, or reveal underlying causes, is called the hydrogen breath test. It uses the amount of hydrogen in the breath to diagnose several gastrointestinal conditions. anaerobic bacteria is found in our colon and can produce hydrogen. This happens when the bacteria are exposed to unabsorbed food, specifically sugars and carbohydrates, and not proteins or fats. Large quantities of hydrogen are usually produced when there is an issue with digestion or the absorption of food in the small intestine, which allows more unabsorbed food to reach the colon.

There are three conditions that the hydrogen breath test helps to diagnose:

  1. A condition when dietary sugars are not properly digested. Lactose is the most common sugar that is difficult to digest. An example of this would be the sugar in milk. This would make someone lactose intolerant.
  2. A condition where a bacterial overgrowth of the small bowel occurs when larger-than-normal amounts of colonic bacteria appear in the small intestine.
  3. A condition where food rapidly passes through the small intestine.

It's important to note that each of these conditions can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and distention, excessive gas, and diarrhea.

How is the breath test performed?

The patient must fast for at least 12 hours prior to testing. First, the patient fills a balloon with an initial breath of air. The patient then drinks a small amount of the test sugar (lactose, sucrose, fructose, lactulose, etc. depending on what test). Then, additional breath samples are collected and reviewed for hydrogen every 15 minutes for up to five hours. Any hydrogen produced means that there is an issue with digestion or absorption of the test sugar and that some of it has reached the colon.

Have any of you had breath tests done? How did they turn out?

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