You’ve been referred for a breath test, which will help your doctor, evaluate or treat your condition. At Digestive Healthcare, we offer 3 different types of breath tests. This pamphlet is meant to give you a basic understanding of the procedure – how it is performed, how it can help, and what side effects you might experience. It can’t answer all of your questions, since a lot depends on the individual patient and the doctor. Please ask your doctor about anything you don’t understand.
Breath Test For Bacterial Overgrowth
The indication: Although there are normally lots of bacteria in the large intestine, the small intestine normally contains far less bacteria because stomach acid prevents bacteria from growing and because food is rapidly moved through it. However, certain conditions can allow bacteria to grow in the small intestine, such as low stomach acid, a parasite infection, intestinal scar tissue, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and slow transit of food through the intestine. Bacteria in the small intestine can cause bloating/gas and possible diarrhea within one hour of eating. Unexplained weight loss and Vitamin B12 deficiency are other clues to bacterial overgrowth.
The test: To perform the test, the patient takes a drink containing the sugar lactulose. If there is bacteria overgrowth in the small intestine, lactulose will ferment, producing the gases hydrogen and methane. The breath test involves blowing into a mouthpiece, which collects the breath into vacuum-sealed collection tubes. It looks for increased hydrogen and methane in the exhaled breath. The more of these gases present, the greater the degree of bacterial overgrowth.
Breath Test For Lactose Intolerance
The indication: Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. It causes cramping, bloating, gas, or diarrhea any time dairy products are consumed. Lactose intolerance occurs due to the body’s lack of lactase, an enzyme normally produced by the small intestine that is needed to digest lactose.
The test: To perform the test, the patient takes a drink containing lactose. The beverage may cause cramping, bloating, gas, or diarrhea. If you are lactose intolerant, then your body will not be able to break down the lactose and the undigested lactose will instead be fermented by bacteria in the colon, releasing hydrogen. The released hydrogen will be absorbed into the bloodstream and eventually excreted in the breath. The breath test involves blowing into a mouthpiece, which collects the breath into vacuum-sealed collection tubes. It looks for increased hydrogen and methane in the exhaled breath.
Breath Test For H. Pylori
The indication: Helicobacter pylori (abbreviated as H. pylori) is a bacteria that can infect the stomach or duodenum (first part of the small intestine). If left untreated, H. pylori bacteria can cause gastritis (an inflammation or irritation of the stomach lining) and duodenal or gastric ulcers. In addition, infection with H. pylori increases the risk of other diseases and is also a risk factor for gastric cancer.
The test: To perform the test, the patient either swallows a capsule or drinks a beverage containing specially-labeled urea. If H. pylori is present in the stomach, the urea is broken up and turned into carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is absorbed across the lining of the stomach and into the blood. It then travels in the blood to the lungs where it is excreted in the breath. Samples of exhaled breath are collected, and the isotopic carbon in the exhaled carbon dioxide is measured.
If you have any questions about your need for a breath test, alternative approaches to your problem, the cost of the procedure, methods of billing or insurance coverage, do not hesitate to speak to your doctor or doctor’s office staff about it.