Breath Test for Digestive Problems

Researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City are urging physicians to add fructose breath testing to their diagnostic strategy for patients with unexplained abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, and intestinal rumbling or gurgling. Results from a new study show fructose malabsorption occurs in a significant proportion of healthy adults.

Study participants were given 25 grams of fructose, which is about the amount found in a 12-ounce can of soda with high fructose corn syrup. Researchers then collected breath samples. Results show an abnormal level, more than 20 parts per million, of hydrogen gas in nearly half of the participants. On another day, participants received 50 grams of fructose, and nearly 75 percent had hydrogen levels more than 20 parts per million. Researchers say hydrogen gas would not be present in breath unless fructose was not digested normally.

Fructose is a simple sugar found in honey, many fruits and some drinks. It is one of the principal sweeteners in the Western diet. However, researchers say not everyone has the ability to absorb fructose properly and it may play an important role in the onset of common gastrointestinal symptoms, such as bloating, cramps and diarrhea. These symptoms occur when fructose is allowed to pass through the digestive tract to the colon, where some bacteria can use the sugar as a food source. In the process, hydrogen gas is liberated.

Recommendations for doctors once they have diagnosed a patient as fructose-intolerant: If a patient is found to be fructose intolerant and symptomatic, the doctor may recommend a low-fructose diet. But in severe cases, antibiotic therapy may be required to provide relief.

SOURCE: 67th Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology, Seattle, Wash., Oct. 18-23, 2002

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