It's a problem that affects up to 20-percent of adults, but there hasn't been a real test for it. That is, until now.
New research is helping doctor diagnose irritable bowel syndrome with a simple breath.
DeeAnn McDaniel is among the first to get the test in Topeka at the Cotton-O'Neil Digestive Health Center. It analyzes whether bacteria might be behind problems that appear to be irritable bowel syndrome.
Nurse Erin Kessinger says measuring the amount of methane and hydrogen gasses in the breath can show how much bacteria is in the gut. She says it happens when the colon is pushing the gasses back to the small intestine instead of letting them pass through.
People with IBS have abdominal pain, bloating and cramping. They might also alternate between diarrhea and constipation. It's not just once in a while - Kessinger says it's continuous. She says patients will have the symptoms all the time and it goes on for months and it doesn't get any better.
In the past, doctors would do colonoscopies and blood tests to just rule out other problems. But new research shows bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine may cause IBS, which led to the breath test specifically for the condition.
Kessinger says it's an easy, non-invasive option. Patients fast starting the night before, get a baseline reading, then drink a substance that goes straight thru the small intestine. Breath readings are done every twenty minutes for two to three hours to check methane and hydrogen levels.
Kessinger says patients know the results right away, meaning treatment can start right away. In this case, they're put on a certain antibiotic for ten to 15 days.
After about two weeks, patients will be tested again. Some patients may need several courses of the antibiotic, and in severe cases patients may need medication indefinitely.