Mention tests for gut disorders, and endoscopy, blood and stool assays spring to mind. But what’s bubbling in your gut now offers potentially new insights into common disorders of the gastrointestinal tract – hence the field of Hydrogen-Methane Breath Testing. It can help to diagnose several conditions that cause gastrointestinal symptoms and certain digestive problems.
The wide range of sugars ingested everyday, such as fructose, lactose, sucrose or sorbitol are absorbed within the small bowel. For some people, these sugars are absorbed poorly by the body and the sugars are passed into the colon. Fermentation of incompletely absorbed sugars within the colon may lead to a number of gastrointestinal symptoms like excessive wind, bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
What is being measured in Breath Testing?
Breath testing involves measuring the amount of gases produced inside the small intestines of the gut, following the administration of a test substrate. Hence, the idea of alveolar gas sampling. The concept being that gases produced in the gut diffuses into the blood stream, and then out again through the alveoli in the lungs into the exhaled air, where it can be easily collected and measured.
The gases of interest are Hydrogen and Methane. These are produced by the microbes in our gut, as a metabolic product of carbohydrate fermentation in the intestine. By manipulating the “food” (otherwise known as a substrate) they receive, we can measure different functions of the gut – currently the two with clinical applicability are Small Intestinal Bacterial Over Growth (SIBO) and FODMAP Intolerances. When these gases are detected in the breath, it provides information to learn more on your digestive health. Such examples are, if you are intolerant to or are unable to digest certain sugars, or there is abnormal growth of bacteria within the small bowel.
How does Breath Testing works?
When ingested sugars are not completely absorbed, bacteria within the large bowel produce hydrogen and/or methane gas that will be detected in the breath test. The poor absorption of an orally ingested sugar is indicated by amounts larger than normal and above baseline levels of exhaled hydrogen or methane in your breath.
It is a simple, non-invasive test which involves patients to drink a sugar drink before taking a baseline breath sample at regular intervals for 2-3 hours depending on the type of test. For example, samples are taken at 20min intervals for SIBO and 60mins for Lactose. The levels of hydrogen and methane are sequentially tracked and plotted by our Neurogastromotility specialist to measure the levels of hydrogen and methane present in the breath.
The results are available within 2-3 days. Your doctor will be able to evaluate conditions such as lactose intolerance or other digestive disorders and present effective treatment options as well as personalised recommendations for your digestive health. Breath testing is available at gutCARE clinic, which can be taken as part of a useful investigation and management of your gut condition. Book your appointment with us and talk to one of our highly trained gastroenterology specialists regarding your health.
- Specialist Service