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My gastroenterologist had suggested at one point that an imbalance of bacteria in my digestive tract could be causing my issues (this is the reason why something like the low FODMAP diet could lead to improvement).

Careful! My gut bacteria are very cranky today t-shirt[source]

This imbalance can actually tested for by measuring your exhalations. The test involves drinking a highly concentrated sugar solution (which feed the bacteria) and exhaling into a tube every 20 minutes over the course of 3 hours.

What’s breathing have to do with your gut?

Turns out a lot! Bacteria feed on the food that you eat. The byproduct of this process is hydrogen and methane gas. The gas is released into your blood stream, travels to the lungs, and gets exhaled. If you have a abundance of bacteria, the air you exhale will have a high level of these gases. Stomach bacteria cartoon

Years upon years after starting the process to diagnose my stomach ailments I got an appointment at Johns Hopkins for a breath test hoping it would lead to some answers.

I didn’t know what to expect and would have loved to know exactly what it all entailed. Therefore I decided to share my experience in hopes that maybe someone reading this out there may be going through the same thing.

The Prep

The day before I was to avoid taking any normal medications. Drink only black coffee, tea, or water. Avoid high fiber foods like whole grains, nuts, raw vegetables, etc. Have a dinner of white rice, broiled chicken (salt only) and finish before 8pm to ensure a 12hr period of fasting.

Boiled chicken and white rice

While this was tricky, Z was a gem and went out and bought me plain white rice and broiled me my chicken…eating it right alongside me in solidarity. K and Z Boiled chicken and white rice

The hardest part? The fasting–especially for an early riser like myself. Despite my best efforts to stay up late so I would “sleep in” I was up at 5 and didn’t have to leave for the test until 7.

No morning coffee?! I. Was. Feeling it. The caffeine withdrawal headache sank in after not too long and all I could think about was a nice warm mug of pumpkin spice goodness. Sigh. I also woke up hungry. Like REALLY hungry. I was allowed water and drank that to fill myself up but it certainly was not a replacement. I did some yoga, took a shower and attempted to take my mind off of it.

The Test

I made it to the testing center by 7:30 and started my test at 8. I was escorted to a waiting room where the nurse, knowing it would be 3hrs that I was there, put a DVD on. I’m sorry but without food or caffeine I was in no mood to watch Hitch at 8:00am.

Johns Hopkins GI Department Breath Test Waiting Room

I was then greeted by a man named Eric who would be performing my test. He explained to me on a diagram about GI anatomy and how this test would work.

Small and Large intestine diagram

I then drank a cup of sugar solution (that thankfully was taste-less) and exhaled into a bag for a baseline reading.

10-11 Breath Test Bag

After that I went back to the waiting room, carrying my bag with me, and waited until Eric summoned me again. Which he did. Every 20 minutes for 3 hours. The small intestine is 21 feet long (!) meaning that the sugar solution has a ways to go to get processed.

During that time I got a lot of blog reading, Pinterest searching, and Facebooking done. However I was in a special place: hungry, headachy, sleepy.

K facebook status

After my time was up I thanked Eric, drove home and headed straight for the coffee pot, barely muttering anything more than a hello to Z as I walked in the door.

The Results

I got a call from my doctor later on that day. Talk about a quick turn around!

She acknowledged the fact that this type of test isn’t really that sensitive (soooo why would she suggest it in the first place?) but that my results implied that I may have this bacterial overgrowth. Not definitive, but I’ll take it. With those results she prescribed a two week course of antibiotics in hopes to get everything normalized.

While it did seem to help at the time, the two weeks have passed and I’m still not 100%. Frustrating when I had been so hopeful.

The Future

After the stress of the wedding is over and life settles down a bit it’ll be interesting to see how my stomach is. The mind-gut connection is far more powerful than most people realize.

It’s been quite a quest.

I hope that in sharing my experiences, someone, somewhere, may feel a little sense of comfort knowing they’re not alone in how they’re feeling and what they’re going through.

-K

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