Health Check: Breath test diagnoses gastrointestinal issues

It is possible to diagnose gastrointestinal problems by simply breathing. (WJAR)

It is possible to diagnose gastrointestinal problems by simply breathing.

It's called the breath test.

While the test isn't new, the newest version brings almost instant results.

Laura Massa, a nurse practitioner at University Medicine’s Gastroenterology Division in East Providence took the test from NBC 10 News. And it was not just for show and tell.

"When I was a teenager, I was having a lot of nausea and increased reflux, so I ended up going to a pediatric gastroenterologist," said Massa.

A biopsy indicated she had the h.pylori bacteria.

“That's the bacteria that lives in the stomach,” said Dr. Steven Moss, a gastroenterologist in that practice. ”It can cause stomach ulcers and occasionally stomach cancer."

One out of four people, he said, has the bacteria. It is often contracted as a child, normally before the age of five.

"There's something about the young child's relatively ineffective immune system that makes them more susceptible. to h. pylori," said Moss.

The bacteria often remains dormant for years, even decades. For most people, there are never any symptoms, according to Moss.

But for those who develop symptoms, the bacteria can wreak havoc. That’s why this new breath ID test can be a lifesaver.

The newer version takes only minutes for a diagnosis, as opposed to days.

“This is a nice, quick, easy test that I can do it in the office during the office visit,” said Massa.

The treatment includes a course of medications.

“It’s treated with a combination of antibiotics and acid inhibitor medicine, so it's normally at least three medications taken for a couple of weeks,” said Moss.

That should do it -- permanently.

The in-office breath test is a great way to confirm that.

So, 17 years after diagnosis and treatment, Massa is finding out if her treatment worked.

"The test showed you don't have h.pylori anymore,” Moss told Massa. “Very clearly negative."

The test takes about 20 minutes. Moss recommended it for people who have a history of stomach problems, such as ulcers.

It is covered by insurance.

Click here to learn more.

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