Doctor explaining prescription to senior patient

Hydrogen Breath Test

A hydrogen breath test is a common screening to measure the amount of hydrogen present in a person’s breath. The amount of hydrogen in the breath can provide an indication of gastrointestinal disease or illness. In people, anaerobic bacteria located in the colon is the only type of bacteria that can produce hydrogen. When you see a Brooklyn gastrointestinal doctor at our office in Cobble Hill or on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, NY, he or she may recommend this test if there is a reason to believe you have an associated illness.

Bacteria is present throughout the gastrointestinal tract, and that’s normal. However, the right amount and type of bacteria is important for overall gastro health. When bacteria present in this tract are exposed to unabsorbed food, especially carbs and sugars, they produce hydrogen. Small amounts of hydrogen are normal but a large amount of hydrogen found on a hydrogen breath test by a Brooklyn gastro doctor can be problematic. This indicates a digestion problem present, most likely in the small intestine. Also, when a large amount of hydrogen is present, colon bacteria may move into the small intestine. This can cause exposure to unabsorbed food, resulting in high hydrogen production.

When a doctor believes one of three conditions may be present:

  • Dietary sugars are not digested normally. This is common in lactose intolerance, and may be from sucrose, fructose, or sorbitol.
  • Bacterial overgrowth in the small bowel is present. This occurs when a large number of colonic bacteria are in the small intestine.
  • Rapid passage of food through the small intestine is occurring.
  • Individuals who have symptoms such as abdominal bloating and pain, diarrhea, flatulence, and distention may require this type of testing.

You’ll fast for at least 12 hours prior to the test. You’ll blow into a balloon to fill it with air. Then, the doctor can measure the amount of hydrogen present in that air as it is released. At this step, you will then ingest a small amount of test sugar, usually the type of sugar product (such as lactose, fructose, or sorbitol thought to be the problem). You’ll provide additional breath samples over a period of 15 minutes for several hours.

After the testing, your Brooklyn gastroenterologist will try to determine if there is any type of intolerance present and offer recommendations for treatment and care. The hydrogen breath test is very effective for measuring dietary sugar intolerance and rapid passing of food through the intestine. It generally is only 60% successful in detecting overgrowth of bacteria. This may require further testing.

If you have pain or discomfort after eating in your abdomen, it is a good idea to consult with our Brooklyn gastro doctor to determine if a hydrogen breath test is necessary. This, along with other diagnostic information, can provide a snapshot of what’s happening within your digestive system and may lead to treatment and improvement in quality of life.

Call Atlantic Gastroenterology

New patients: 718 521-2840 Existing patients: 718 615-4001 EndoSlim Clinic: 1-877-SIZEOFF (1-877-749-3633)