Is a Lactulose Breath Test Necessary?

A lactulose breath test is an easy gastrointestinal evaluation tool. It involves ingesting foods that contain milk sugars (lactose or lactulose) and measuring the amount of hydrogen and/or methane given off as the patient breathes out. Let’s look at why this kind of test is necessary, how it’s given, and how it helps your gastroenterologist plan treatment.

What’s Going on in Your Small Intestine?

Your small intestine is located in the abdomen. It is largely responsible for converting the food you eat into a liquid form, which can easily be absorbed and transported throughout the body. Whatever is not readily converted to usable nutrients is eliminated as waste.

Sometimes, due to injury, surgery, or other circumstances that slow down the transport and absorption of water and food in the small intestine, a condition called small intestine bacterial overgrowth occurs. Also known as SIBO, this condition causes gassy fermentation of certain foods, particularly those containing the milk sugars lactose and lactulose.

As blood vessels in the small intestine absorb these fermented gasses, they exit the body in the form of flatulence, and they also move to the lungs. When the person with SIBO exhales, these methane and hydrogen  gasses are exhaled in appreciable amounts that can be measured.

Symptoms of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth

SIBO features many digestive symptoms, which vary in intensity from person to person. However, in general, the most common symptoms are:

  • Flatulence
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

In more severe cases, the symptoms may be weight loss, muscle wasting, and even malnutrition. So, you should seek evaluation by an experienced gastroenterologist for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Why Is a Lactulose Breath Test Necessary?

The lactulose breath test is important, because it is a highly accurate way to check for SIBO. The lactulose breath test is done at a GI clinic and takes about two hours to complete. It involves a baseline collection of the patient’s breath followed by ingestion of lactose- or lactulose-containing foods.

Then, the patient breathes into collection containers three more times over the course of 90 minutes. The composition of the gasses exhaled is analyzed for methane and hydrogen. Increased amounts of these gasses indicate SIBO.

Treating SIBO                 

The most common treatment plans for SIBO include nutritional counseling to eliminate as much lactose and lactulose from the diet as possible. Supplements such as Vitamin B12, calcium, and iron have been proven helpful. Finally, many patients require a course of antibiotics to quell the overgrowth of intestinal bacteria.

Lactulose Breath Testing at Genensis Healthcare Partners

If you have gastrointestinal symptoms that persist, please contact the nearest location of Genensis Healthcare Partners for a full evaluation and treatment plan. At our 20 locations in California, we feature providers, testing, and treatments that are second to none. We can quickly help you improve your gastrointestinal health. Pick the location nearest you, and contact us for a consultation. Or, request an appointment online.