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April 2009 Issue

Ralph Giannella, MD, and Sudip Ghosh, PhD, both in the division of digestive diseases, are using a new breath test to determine problems in the GI tract.
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Breath Test May Help Uncover Problems Originating in the Gastrointestinal Tract

By Katie Pence
Published April 2009

A person’s breath can tell you whether they are fans of garlic or if they regularly chew gum. But according to researchers at UC, it can also help uncover problems in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Ralph Giannella, MD, and colleagues in the digestive diseases division are now offering hydrogen/ methane breath testing at University Hospital to help patients discover whether they have bacterial overgrowth in their small intestines or are lactose or fructose intolerant.

He says UC is the first facility to offer this test in the Cincinnati area.

“Our intestines naturally have bacteria,” says Giannella, a professor in the digestive diseases division. “These bacteria help break down our food which metabolizes into gas.

“Using the gases in a person’s breath can help us determine problems in their GI tract.”

Tests can be done for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (glucose), sugar intolerances (fructose), dairy intolerances (lactose), or intestinal transit time from the mouth to the large intestine (lactulose).

“We have each patient breathe into a special plastic bag, and we draw out the air with a syringe,” Giannella says. “Then, depending on the purpose of the hydrogen/methane breathing test, we have each patient consume a certain sugar mixture and repeat the process.”

He says the test takes about four hours. Breath samples are taken and analyzed every 30 minutes, but the patient does not need to be stationary during the test and can return periodically for timed sampling.

“There is no blood draw required,” he says. “This test is completely non-invasive. By the amount of hydrogen measured in a person’s breath, we can determine a diagnosis and decide the best way to treat the patient.

“It’s simple and beneficial.”
The test is being conducted by referral only in the Digestive Diseases Diagnostic and Treatment Center on University Hospital’s second floor. For more information, call (513) 475-7505.

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