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Hydrogen breath test

If you suspect you have a digestive problem, including lactose intolerance, a hydrogen breath test can help diagnose it.

What is a hydrogen breath test?

A hydrogen breath test is a simple way of determining whether you might have small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or lactose intolerance.

Many digestive conditions cause gas in your gut. This is due to the hydrogen produced by anaerobic gut bacteria in your colon as they digest the sugars in the foods that you’ve eaten. Usually, these carbohydrates are pre-digested before they reach the colon but if they haven’t been, the bacteria will have to do this work.

The gas produced by the bacteria can cause bloating and swelling as it moves through your digestive system – and can cause wind at the other end.

These levels can be measured by a simple hydrogen breath test.

I have a question about having a hydrogen breath test

Why would I have a hydrogen breath test?

The hydrogen breath test confirms or rules out contributing factors to IBS. One is SIBO and the other is an intolerance to a naturally-occurring sugar such as lactose, fructose or sorbitol – known as carbohydrate malabsorption.

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem where your body is unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products. It’s not a dairy allergy.

What are the symptoms of small intestine bacterial overgrowth?

Symptoms of SIBO vary from person to person. You may be able to drink a normal-sized glass of milk and not display any symptoms; but some people are so intolerant they may not even be able to have milk in their tea or coffee.

Symptoms usually develop within a few hours of consuming food or drink containing lactose. These symptoms include:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Feeling nauseous or being sick

Because the symptoms of lactose intolerance are similar to other conditions – such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and milk protein intolerance - it’s important to get a diagnosis before you cut dairy products from your diet.

Who is likely to get lactose intolerance?

People who have lactose intolerance don’t produce enough lactase; the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose. In the UK, lactose intolerance is more common in people of African-Caribbean or Asian origin.

Most adult cases of lactose intolerance are genetic and start developing between the ages of 20 and 40. In these cases, the condition will last for a lifetime.

How do I prepare for a hydrogen breath test?

Your Consultant will ask you not to eat or drink anything the night before the test.

What happens if SIBO is left untreated?

If SIBO is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications including nutrient deficiencies, dehydration and malnutrition.

What happens during a hydrogen breath test?

The breath test is now carried out at home

The breath test kit includes:

  • Easy to follow instructions
  • Patient symptom sheet
  • Pre-sealed substrate
  • Pre-sealed collection straw
  • Sealable collection tubes
  • Collection tube labels
  • Sealable returns packaging

A SIBO breath test is simple and non-invasive. You will provide an initial breath sample by blowing into a test tube through a straw, or into a foil bag, which will give a baseline reading.

Then, you will drink water containing either glucose or lactulose which needs to be consumed over a minute or two.

Breath samples will then be taken every 15 minutes for just over two hours in order to measure hydrogen and methane, post-ingestion.

During the test, you should take note of any symptoms you experience and complete the symptom form, which will then be interpreted alongside the data collected by a clinician.

What should I expect after a hydrogen breath test?

We’ll advise your clinician of the results, and they’ll discuss a treatment plan with you.

Contact us about a Hydrogen breath test

It's easy to find out more about treatment by giving us a call or completing our enquiry form.