Hydrogen/Methane Breath Tests​

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Did you know IBS is the most common gastrointestinal condition, affecting 20% of Australian men, women and children, most of whom never seek medical attention? Common symptoms include abdominal discomfort, bloating, wind, and altered bowel habits (e.g. diarrhoea or constipation). Less common symptoms may include nausea, lethargy and weight loss. IBS is a debilitating condition that can be frustrating to manage for you and your doctor. Achieve better symptom control today by starting with a medical diagnosis and a management plan.

Hydrogen & Methane Breath Tests

Are you confused with information on IBS management and frustrated with treatments that deliver only sub-optimal results? Multiple studies show that sugar malabsorption and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) are leading causes of IBS symptoms. These conditions can be diagnosed with a hydrogen and methane breath test.

FODMAP Intolerance

FODMAPs are rapidly fermented, poorly absorbed dietary sugars.

Lactose breath test

  • for lactose intolerance (lactase deficiency)

Fructose breath test

  •  for fructose intolerance

Sorbitol breath test

  • for sorbitol intolerance

Mannitol breath test

  • for mannitol intolerance

Sucrose breath test

  • for sucrose intolerance (sucrase-isomaltase deficiency)

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

SIBO is the abnormal overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.

  • Lactulose and Glucose breath tests – for SIBO

Click here to learn more about individual FODMAPs, food intolerance vs food allergy, SIBO, and FAQs.

Why Should I Consider Breath Testing?

IBS is a complex disorder and there is no cure. Up to 90% of IBS sufferers identify food as a trigger for their symptoms and yet the incidence of medically diagnosed food allergy or food chemical sensitivity in the population is very low – less than 2%. Despite their prevalence, FODMAP intolerance and SIBO often remains undiagnosed.

Patients who seek medical attention for their symptoms are typically managed with over-the-counter treatments (e.g. anti-diarrhoeal agents, pain-relieving medications, constipation treatments), and sometimes with prescription medications (e.g. tricylic antidepressants). However, these provide only short-term temporary relief, have varying levels of effectiveness, and can be expensive if treatment is ongoing. Prescription medications can also have unwanted side effects.

An elimination diet is useful but falls short of providing scientific proof of intolerance and cannot reliably detect mild or borderline intolerance. Overly restrictive elimination diets, often self-initiated without professional advice, can lead to nutritional inadequacy and other poor health outcomes. The process of eliminating (and re-introducing) certain food groups can be lengthy and it can be impractical to keep a food diary. Finally, it is inadvisable to arbitrarily withdraw certain foods from your diet without objective evidence because of their nutritional importance.

A hydrogen and methane breath test is a valuable diagnostic tool to accurately predict FODMAP intolerance and SIBO. It is useful as part of routine diagnostic workup and to guide a targeted evidence-based dietary approach. Medical studies show FODMAP restriction informed by breath tests provides significant and long-term symptom improvement in 75% of IBS patients. This evidence far outweighs any other pharmaceutical or dietary strategy for IBS management. You can beat the bloat, get answers, and return to normal with a simple test.

How Does the Breath Test Work?

Common dietary sugars such as lactose and fructose are normally absorbed in the small intestine. However, some people do not completely absorb these sugars and they pass into the colon (large intestine) where they are fermented by bacteria to produce either hydrogen (H2) or methane (CH4) gas, or a combination of both.

In FODMAP intolerance an orally-ingested test sugar will be incompletely absorbed in the small intestine, leading to fermentation and gas production in the colon. These gases are absorbed into the bloodstream and expired via the lungs, allowing detection by breath testing. As these gases are not produced by humans, they are evidence of sugar fermentation by intestinal bacteria and hence breath tests are highly specific.

Intolerance and SIBO is indicated by a significant rise in breath hydrogen or methane levels above baseline during the test. As a quantitative test it can also provide some information on the degree of intolerance.

Test Details

Breath testing for adults and children is simple, painless and non-invasive. Gastrolab’s tests are available at specific clinics Australia-wide (a booking is required) or via convenient mail-order kits (order online). Mail-order kits are also available for patients outside Australia.

A doctor’s referral is not required for testing; any health professional can refer and patients can even self-refer. The test takes up to 3 hours to complete and only one test can be performed per day.

Breath testing at Gastrolab is performed in accordance with best practice guidelines using gold standard instrumentation in NATA-accredited laboratories. Our specialist doctors continually review the latest medical literature to ensure our services are delivered with the highest standard of care.