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Hydrogen Breath Test

The Hydrogen Breath Test is commonly used in an attempt to detect the presence of Small Bowel Intestinal Overgrowth (SIBO). Due to bacteria being the only source of methane and hydrogen in the human intestines, these levels can be measured to determine if there is an excessive presence of bacteria. The hydrogen breath test has seen varying sensitivity and reliability, it is not a perfect test.

How It Works

The patient will consume a carbohydrate such as glucose or xylose. If there is excessive bacteria in the intestines, that carbohydrate will be metabolized and there will be a release of hydrogen. The patient's breath is monitored for this hydrogen.

An increase of hydrogen greater than 20 parts per million (ppm) in a 90-120 minute time frame usually indicates the presence of SIBO.

Interactions and Limitations

Various factors can throw off the test including exercise, smoking, diets, and recent use of antibiotics.

Approximately 27% of the population does not release any or very little hydrogen and are instead methane emitters. As such, methane levels should also be monitored during the test.

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