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Hydrogen breath test for the diagnosis of lactose intolerance, is the routine sugar load the best one?

Fiorenza Argnani, Mauro Di Camillo, Vanessa Marinaro, Tiziana Foglietta, Veronica Avallone, Carlo Cannella, Piero Vernia
World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG 2008 October 28, 14 (40): 6204-7
18985811

AIM: To evaluate the prevalence of lactose intolerance (LI) following a load of 12.5 g in patients diagnosed as high-grade malabsorbers using the hydrogen breath test (HBT)-25.

METHODS: Ninety patients showing high-grade malabsorption at HBT-25 were submitted to a second HBT with a lactose load of 12.5 g. Peak hydrogen production, area under the curve of hydrogen excretion and occurrence of symptoms were recorded.

RESULTS: Only 16 patients (17.77%) with positive HBT-25 proved positive at HBT-12.5. Hydrogen production was lower as compared to HBT-25 (peak value 21.55 parts per million (ppm) +/- 29.54 SD vs 99.43 ppm +/- 40.01 SD; P < 0.001). Symptoms were present in only 13 patients. The absence of symptoms during the high-dose test has a high negative predictive value (0.84) for a negative low-dose test. The presence of symptoms during the first test was not useful for predicting a positive low-dose test (positive predictive value 0.06-0.31).

CONCLUSION: Most patients with a positive HBT-25 normally absorb a lower dose of lactose and a strict lactose restriction on the basis of a "standard" HBT is, in most instances, unnecessary. Thus, the 25 g lactose tolerance test should probably be substituted by the 12.5 g test in the diagnosis of LI, and in providing dietary guidelines to patients with suspected lactose malabsorption/intolerance.

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