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Scand J Gastroenterol. 1994 Sep;29(9):826-32.

Carbohydrate malabsorption: quantification by methane and hydrogen breath tests.

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Dept. of Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology F, Gentofte Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.



Previous studies in small series of healthy adults have suggested that parallel measurement of hydrogen and methane resulting from gut fermentation may improve the precision of quantitative estimates of carbohydrate malabsorption. Systematic, controlled studies of the role of simultaneous hydrogen and methane measurements using end-expiratory breath test techniques are not available.


We studied seven healthy, adult methane and hydrogen producers and seven methane non-producers by means of end-expiratory breath test techniques. Breath gas concentrations and gastrointestinal symptoms were recorded at intervals for 12h after ingestion of 10, 20 and 30 g lactulose.


In the seven methane producers the excretion pattern was highly variable; the integrated methane responses were disproportional and not reliably reproducible. However, quantitative estimates of carbohydrate malabsorption on the basis of individual areas under the methane and hydrogen excretion curves (AUCs) tended to improve in methane producers after ingestion of 20 g lactulose by simple addition of AUCs of methane to the AUCs of the hydrogen curves. Estimates were no more precise in methane producers than similar estimates in non-producers. Gastrointestinal symptoms increased significantly with increasing lactulose dose; correlation with total hydrogen and methane excretion was weak.


Our study suggests that in methane producers, simple addition of methane and hydrogen excretion improves the precision of semiquantitative measurements of carbohydrate malabsorption. The status of methane production should, therefore, be known to interpret breath tests semiquantitatively. The weak correlation between hydrogen and methane excretion and gas-related abdominal complaints suggests that other factors than net production of these gases may be responsible for the symptoms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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