Methane production during lactulose breath test is associated with gastrointestinal disease presentation

Dig Dis Sci. 2003 Jan;48(1):86-92. doi: 10.1023/a:1021738515885.


It has recently been determined that there is an increased prevalence of bacterial overgrowth in IBS. Since there are two gases (hydrogen and methane) measured on lactulose breath testing, we evaluated whether the different gas patterns on lactulose breath testing coincide with diarrhea and constipation symptoms in IBS and IBD. Consecutive patients referred to the gastrointestinal motility program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for lactulose breath testing were given a questionnaire to evaluate their gastrointestinal symptoms. Symptoms were graded on a scale of 0-5. Upon completion of the breath test, the results were divided into normal, hydrogen only, hydrogen and methane, and methane only positive breath tests. A comparison of all subjects and IBS subjects was undertaken to evaluate diarrhea and constipation with regards to the presence or absence of methane. This was further contrasted to Crohn's and ulcerative colitis (UC) patients in the database. After exclusion criteria, 551 subjects from the database were available for comparison. Of the 551 subjects (P < 0.05, one-way ANOVA) and in a subgroup of 296 IBS subjects (P < 0.05, one-way ANOVA), there was a significant association between the severity of reported constipation and the presence of methane. The opposite was true for diarrhea (P < 0.001). If a breath test was methane positive, this was 100% associated with constipation predominant IBS. Furthermore, IBS had a greater prevalence of methane production than Crohn's or UC. In fact, methane was almost nonexistent in the predominantly diarrheal conditions of Crohn's and UC. In conclusion, a methane positive breath test is associated with constipation as a symptom.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breath Tests
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / diagnosis
  • Constipation / diagnosis
  • Crohn Disease / diagnosis
  • Databases, Factual
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / diagnosis
  • Intestine, Small / microbiology
  • Lactulose*
  • Methane / metabolism*


  • Lactulose
  • Methane