What is Breath Testing?
Certain kinds of digestive issues can allow unabsorbed food to reach the colon. When this happens, some of the bacteria in the colon produce increased amounts of hydrogen. This hydrogen then finds its way into our breath, and those increased levels can be tested.
Breath testing can also be used to diagnose infection with certain bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori.
Why do you need this test?
High amounts of hydrogen in the breath can indicate that some foods are not being properly digested. The breath test can help diagnose conditions such as:
- Lactose intolerance
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Intolerance to sugars such as fructose
All of these conditions can cause significant gastrointestinal symptoms, including bloating, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, and diarrhea.
Preparing for the test
Your doctor will give you specific instructions about how to prepare, such as:
Four weeks before your test, stop taking antibiotics or Pepto-Bismol.
One to two weeks before, stop taking antacids, laxatives or stool softeners.
24 hours in advance, limit your diet to plain white bread, rice, or white potatoes; baked or broiled plain chicken or fish; and unflavored coffee, tea, and water. Avoid sweet drinks such as soda, foods with high fiber content like beans, cereal, or pasta. And do not have butter or margarine
8 to 12 hours before, avoid eating or drinking anything, including water. However, you can take your regular prescription medications with a small amount of water. If you have diabetes, you may need to adjust your insulin dosage before the test. Make sure to tell your doctor about any prescription medications.
On that day, don’t exercise, chew gum, or use mouthwash or breath mints. Also, inhaling any type of smoke may interfere with your test results.
What is involved in this test?
Breath testing is performed in our office. It is risk-free and involves no discomfort. Your doctor will start your hydrogen breath test by having you blow into a bag to get a baseline breath sample. Then you will drink a solution containing different types of sugar. After that, you will breathe into a bag every 15 to 20 minutes while the solution is digested.
Hydrogen breath tests are easy to do, but they can take two to three hours. You may want to have something to read or watch during the intervals.
For H pylori breath testing, a similar protocol is used to measure the presence in your stomach of the enzyme urease, that is synthesized by this bacterium.
What do the results mean?
Your doctor will measure how much your hydrogen level changes after you drink the sugar solution. If it increases significantly, you may require treatment for one of the conditions listed above.
By: New York Gastroenteroloy
Reviewed by: Jay Desai, MD
Published: Dec 10th, 2020
Last Reviewed: Mar 1st, 2022
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