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Indian J Clin Biochem. 2014 Oct;29(4):398-405. doi: 10.1007/s12291-014-0426-4. Epub 2014 Mar 21.

Hydrogen breath tests in gastrointestinal diseases.

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Department of Gastroenterology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, 160012 India ; Department of Super Specialty Gastroenterology, PGIMER, House No-137, Sector 15-A, Chandigarh, 160015 India.
Department of Gastroenterology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, 160012 India.


Hydrogen breath tests are widely used to explore pathophysiology of functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and carbohydrate malabsorption are disorders detected by these tests that have been proposed to be of great importance for symptoms of GI diseases. Glucose hydrogen breath test is more acceptable for diagnosis of SIBO whereas lactose and fructose hydrogen breath tests are used for detection of lactose and fructose maldigestion respectively. Lactulose hydrogen breath test is also used widely to measure the orocecal transit time for GI motility. These methods are noninvasive and inexpensive. Many patients with functional gut disorders are unaware of the relationship between diet and GI symptoms they present. In particular, patients with chronic symptoms may regard their condition as normal and may not be aware that their symptoms can be effectively managed following a proper diagnosis. Patients with symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and altered bowel movements (diarrhea and constipation), or with a medical diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease, may have undiagnosed carbohydrate malabsorption or SIBO. Hydrogen breath tests are specific and sensitive diagnostic tests that can be used to either confirm or eliminate the possibility of carbohydrate malabsorption or SIBO in such patients. Breath tests, though valuable tools, are underutilized in evaluating dyspepsia and functional bloating and diarrhea as well as suspected malabsorption. However, because of their simplicity, reproducibility and safety of procedure they are now being substituted to more uncomfortable and expensive techniques that were traditionally used in gastroenterology.


Carbohydrate malabsorption; Hydrogen breath tests; Orocecal transit time; Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth

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