One of the hottest topics in Gastroenterology is the microbiome, or the bacteria and other organisms that normally live in the gut of every human. This is composed of over 1,000 different bacterial species and together can weigh more than 4 pounds! Changes in the composition of the microbiome is related to a number of diseases. The composition of the microbiota is also related to how healthy an individual may be. However, the microbiota is a very delicate balance in terms of the number and the individual species.
For example, a more and more common problem that we see in our patient’s is diarrhea, excessive flatulence, abdominal bloating and sometimes nausea. Although these symptoms are not specific, they can be related to a disease state called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, for short. When your doctor has a suspicion of SIBO, they may want to utilize a breath test to discover the cause of these symptoms. Breath Testing is utilized to help diagnose the bacterial overgrowth or intolerance to certain sugars. The test measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath after the administration of certain sugars, which goes up in different conditions. Normally, there is not very much hydrogen in your breath. If bacterial overgrowth is found, the number of bacteria can be reduced by nonabsorbable antibiotics and thereby return the patient to normalcy. Similarly, the breath tests can be used to detect an intolerance to lactose, a sugar in milk, or intolerance to fructose, a sugar that is common in fruits. Appropriate treatments in terms of avoidance of the sugars can then be undertaken. The breath test does take some time but is a noninvasive way of diagnosing a number of GI issues. Most gastroenterology offices now include hydrogen breath testing in the office in order to aid in the diagnosis of various GI complaints.