Understanding Our Tests: Hydrogen-Methane Breath Testing to Diagnose Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth

Clin Transl Gastroenterol. 2023 Apr 1;14(4):e00567. doi: 10.14309/ctg.0000000000000567.


There is increasing appreciation that small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) drives many common gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain. Breath testing via measurement of exhaled hydrogen and methane gases following ingestion of a readily metabolized carbohydrate has become an important noninvasive testing paradigm to help diagnose SIBO. However, because of a number of physiological and technical considerations, how and when to use breath testing in the diagnosis of SIBO remains a nuanced clinical decision. This narrative review provides a comprehensive overview of breath testing paradigms including the indications for testing, how to administer the test, and how patient factors influence breath testing results. We also explore the performance characteristics of breath testing (sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values, likelihood ratios, and diagnostic odds ratio). Additionally, we describe complementary and alternative tests for diagnosing SIBO. We discuss applications of breath testing for research. Current estimates of SIBO prevalence among commonly encountered high-risk populations are reviewed to provide pretest probability estimates under a variety of clinical situations. Finally, we discuss how to integrate breath test performance characteristics into clinical care decisions using clinical predictors and the Fagan nomogram.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breath Tests / methods
  • Diarrhea / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen / metabolism
  • Intestine, Small* / microbiology
  • Methane* / metabolism


  • Methane
  • Hydrogen