The degree of breath methane production in IBS correlates with the severity of constipation

Am J Gastroenterol. 2007 Apr;102(4):837-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2007.01072.x.


Background: Recent work has demonstrated that among irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) subjects, methane on lactulose breath test (LBT) is nearly universally associated with constipation predominance. This work has been based on subjective constipation outcomes. In this study, methane is compared to constipation in another population of IBS subjects with constipation being determined both subjectively and objectively.

Methods: A nested study was conducted in subjects enrolled in a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study. After consent, subjects were asked to complete a stool diary for 7 days. This included logging of all bowel movements that week as well as documenting the stool consistency for each during the same period using the Bristol Stool Score. After 7 days, subjects were asked to rate their symptoms on a visual analogue scale (VAS) score (0-100 mm) for diarrhea and constipation. They then had an LBT to evaluate both methane and hydrogen profiles over 180 min. Subjects with methane were compared to those without methane for Bristol Stool Score, stool frequency, as well as VAS scores for diarrhea and constipation. The degree of constipation was then compared to the quantity of methane production on LBT based on area under the curve.

Results: Among 87 subjects, 20 (23.8%) produced methane. IBS subjects with methane had a mean constipation severity of 66.1 +/- 36.7 compared to 36.2 +/- 30.8 for nonmethane producers (P < 0.001). The opposite was noted for diarrhea (P < 0.01). On LBT, the quantity of methane seen on breath test was directly proportional to the degree of constipation reported (r = 0.60, P < 0.01). In addition, greater methane production correlated with a lower stool frequency (r =-0.70, P < 0.001) and Bristol Stool Score (r =-0.58, P < 0.01).

Conclusion: Methane on LBT is associated with constipation both subjectively and objectively. The degree of methane production on breath test appears related to the degree of constipation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Breath Tests
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Constipation / metabolism*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Lactulose / metabolism
  • Male
  • Methane / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged


  • Lactulose
  • Methane