The hydrogen breath test is used to identify one of two conditions: lactose intolerance or an abnormal growth of bacteria in the intestine.
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. Lactose intolerance occurs because of the body’s lack of lactase, an enzyme normally produced by the small intestine. Lactase is needed to digest lactose. Symptoms of intolerance include cramping, bloating, gas, or diarrhea when dairy products are consumed.
Normally, small amounts of bacteria are found in the intestine. If there is a significant increase in the amount of bacteria, food and nutrients are not absorbed properly. Bacterial overgrowth can result from a slow transit of food through the bowels or from certain medications. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
A breath sample will be collected and tested for the presence of hydrogen. To obtain the sample, you will be asked to blow up a balloon-type bag. Normally, very little hydrogen is detected in the breath. You will then be given a pleasant tasting solution to drink. Breath samples are collected every 15-20 minutes for up to 3 hours to detect any increase in hydrogen in the breath as the solution is digested. Increased hydrogen breath levels indicate improper digestion.
The hydrogen breath test cannot be done following a colonoscopy, barium enema, or any tests that require a bowel prep to be given. The bowel prep will cleanse the bacteria. You must wait 4 weeks to have a breath test done to allow the bacteria to re-establish.
DO NOT take any antibiotics or Pepto Bismol®. Do NOT undergo colonoscopy, barium enema, or other tests that require a bowel prep or cleansing.
DO NOT smoke the day before and the day of the test. Smoking can affect the results of the test. Try to avoid places where people smoke. Second-hand smoke can also affect the results of the test.
DO NOT smoke. Avoid second-hand smoke. DO NOT chew gum. DO NOT use mouthwash. Use only a small amount of water when you brush your teeth.
DO NOT eat or drink anything (including water) for 8 hours before the test.
A healthcare provider will explain the test in detail and answer any questions you may have.
The testing procedure can last for up to 3 hours.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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