Hydrogen breath tests help doctors diagnose lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, or the presence of abnormal bacteria in the colon.
Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. It can cause diarrhea, cramping, gas, and bloating whenever you consume dairy products. The small intestine usually produces a lactase enzyme to process this sugar; the enzyme is absent in lactose intolerance patients.
Fructose intolerance is similar, but prevents patients from properly digesting fruits.
According to Dr. Guru Reddy, a well-known Gastroenterologist from Houston, Texas, bacteria found in the bowel excrete hydrogen gas upon fermentation of carbohydrates. This prevents dietary carbohydrates from being absorbed by the small intestines. They’ll remain in the digestive tract as undigested material.
The breath test helps doctors determine the presence of excess hydrogen gas.
Uses of the Hydrogen Breath Test
Hydrogen breath tests are mainly used in diagnosing three conditions:
- Hydrogen breath testing is used to diagnose bacterial overgrowth of the small bowel (SIBO) where larger than normal numbers of colonic bacteria are found in the small intestines.
- It is also used to diagnose whether dietary sugars are not normally being digested, also known as carbohydrate malabsorption where lactose gets poorly digested.
- Hydrogen breath tests are also used for the diagnosis of the rapid or slow passage of food through the small intestines.
All these conditions might be associated with abdominal pains, distention, diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence.
Types of Hydrogen Breath Tests
- Glucose hydrogen breath tests show us whether glucose is getting readily absorbed into the small intestines.
- Lactose hydrogen breath tests determine if a person has a problem in the digestion of lactose products including cheese, milk, ice cream, etc.
- Fructose hydrogen breath tests are performed to determine if a person has a problem digesting fructose. Fructose is the natural sugar found in vegetables, honey, fruits, and grains.
- Sorbitol hydrogen tests determine tolerance to sorbitol sugar alcohol or polyol naturally found in sweeteners such as chewing gum or sugar-free sweets. Its absorption in the small intestines is passively much slower than other sugars.The result: moderate doses aremalabsorbed, causing colon fermentation.