Several different gastrointestinal conditions may cause abnormally high levels of hydrogen gas in the small bowel, or gut, that can be measured when you breathe. A hydrogen breath test is a quick and non-invasive procedure that determines how your body digests different kinds of sugars by measuring the levels of gas you exhale.
The Digestive Health Institute at Cooper University Health Care offers hydrogen breath testing, which can help your doctor diagnose or rule out certain digestive conditions, such as intolerance for lactose and other sugars (like fructose and sucrose), bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Your doctor may recommend a hydrogen breath test if you have:
- Abdominal pain
- Chronic digestive problems
- Frequent constipation or diarrhea
- Frequent flatulence
How to Prepare for a Hydrogen Breath Test
A hydrogen breath test requires that you begin preparing up to about a month before your scheduled test to ensure the most accurate results possible.
There are different kinds of hydrogen breath tests available depending on which condition your doctor is trying to diagnose. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to best prepare, including foods to avoid and any changes in how to take certain medications.
Depending on the kind of hydrogen breath testing your doctor recommends, the preparation for a hydrogen breath may include:
- One month before the test – stop any antibiotics and probiotics you may be taking.
- One week before – stop taking certain supplements and treatments like laxatives, fiber supplements, and antacids. If you are a smoker, your doctor may ask you to stop smoking a week before your scheduled test.
- The day before – you will need to limit your diet to one that is low in fiber, avoiding most grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, pasta, and most dairy products.
- The test day – nothing to eat or drink (except for water) for 12 hours before the test.
What to Expect During the Test
On the day of your test you will breathe into an inflatable plastic bag to get a baseline, or starting, level of the amount of gas in your exhaled breath. You will then rink a sugar solution and provide additional breath samples every 15-30 minutes over several hours to see if your body is properly breaking down sugars or if you have excessive bacteria in your small intestine.
The levels of hydrogen gas in the air you exhale is measured in parts per million (ppm), and any measurement that is more than 20ppm above your baseline test is considered a positive result.
Although hydrogen breath test area highly reliable, the results may be affected by whether you followed the instructions to prepare for the test.
Why Choose Cooper for Hydrogen Breath Testing
As the region’s leading academic health system, Cooper’s specialists have extensive experience in using hydrogen breath testing to help identify the possible causes of digestive problems.