Surviving the Hydrogen Breath Test

So your doctor, naturopath, or gastro thinks you have SIBO?

Now you just have to survive 3-4 weeks while you wait for your hydrogen breath test to arrive to your home, take it, wait for arrival to the lab, and finally for the results. (If you have the option, go take it at a lab. Overnight the results.)

Seriously, it’s like “we know you’re suffering, so let’s give you this test that takes about a month total to finally get the results in. Until then, you’re on your own. May the odds be ever in your favor.”


I was more frustrated with the waiting than anything else. I had already dropped to under 100 pounds… what was I supposed to eat?! How was I going to stay alive until then? The bloating, discomfort, nausea, and tummy gurgling was so uncomfortable.

Once I got over the initial frustration, I knew there was nothing I could do. I may as well try to make the best of it and figure out which foods I was handling okay and which ones were out of the question. I already knew the absolute no-nos (gluten, dairy, sugar, grains). But I felt like every day was a mystery.

So, I began a food diary. And I am so glad I did! I downloaded this wonderful app called Cara. I was looking for one on my phone and I hit the jackpot. Seriously, this thing tracks your food, sleep, stool, mood, pain, medication, period, symptoms, and just about everything else. It shows you the correlation of food on your best and worst days. It also shows the correlation stress has on your symptoms. I would highly recommend this app to anyone with tummy issues. It will prove useful if you’re regularly seeing a doctor/specialist, but more than that, it will help you learn about your body and it’s different rhythms. What it likes and what it doesn’t.

I found that I was handling these foods well:

  • Cooked vegetables (preferably green)
  • Berries
  • Grapes
  • Bananas
  • Dates
  • Fish
  • Almond Butter
  • Pineapples
  • Eggs
  • Occasionally ground turkey

I still experienced fatigue because this isn’t a sustainable diet. But to survive and get food in my body, I did what I had to do and stuck to these foods. Then, came the prep day for the test (a Saturday for me). On the prep diet the day before the hydrogen breath test, you have very limited options. You shouldn’t eat any foods that would aggravate your SIBO. You are allowed white rice if you’re already eating grains, but because I wasn’t I stuck to eggs and meat.

I had ground turkey with eggs in the morning, plain chicken for lunch, and salmon for dinner. I actually wasn’t very hungry on this day. I felt heavy and bloated because I really hadn’t been handling meat very well since my symptoms had gotten worse. I had a little bit of weak black tea in the afternoon, which helped with the fatigue some, but I was ready to take the test.

I began fasting at 7 p.m. on Saturday night and woke up around 7 a.m. Sunday morning. (You’re called to fast for 12 hours before the test).

I had a slight headache and feeling of fullness in my tummy. I waited about an hour, drank some water, brushed my teeth, and prepared the test. I began around 8:30 a.m. I took my baseline sample (before the lactulose solution) and then I mixed the lactulose solution with 8 fl oz of water. I tried to drink it as quickly as I could, but didn’t want to become physically ill (I have serious emetophobia). It took me about 10 minutes total. Then, I faithfully got 9 breath samples at exactly every 20 minutes after I finished my drink.

It was slow. It was not fun. My symptoms during the test were:

  • Tummy gurgling
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness/feeling woozy
  • Bloating
  • Tummy pulsing
  • Nausea

I would recommend distracting yourself as much as you can. I read, watched a couple of episodes of Parks and Rec, and walked around my house. I wasn’t up to calling someone to talk to them (that may distract you from getting your samples on time, too). During the final sample, I worried that I may actually faint. Thankfully, I made it through and got something to eat as soon as I was done! The lactulose didn’t “clean me out” or work as a laxative should and I kept all my food down as well.

It took about a day or two to fully recover from some of those symptoms I experienced during the test, but it was relatively painless/not scary. And you bet I sent the test back as soon as the post office opened the next morning!


If you’re thinking of testing for SIBO, I would highly recommend seeing if there is a digestive disease clinic or lab in your area that does the test in house. If there is not, or you’d like to be home the first time you take a hydrogen breath test, I ordered mine (through my naturopath) here. You do need a prescription/doctor to order it with, so make sure you’re seeing a specialist or medical professional.

Some tips for first time testers:

  • Stick to the prep diet strictly. Any wavering could produce inaccurate results. And if you really are trying to figure out what’s wrong/how to heal, you need accurate results to know how to move forward.
  • You’re going to feel like you’re doing the test wrong. That’s normal. Press on. If you need additional help, the SIBO Center in Oregon has instructional videos that will help you make sure you’re taking your test correctly.
  • Drink LOTS of water. Especially when you’re not on a very sustainable diet. Make sure you’re getting your fluids to make up for that.
  • Set alarms once you’ve finished your drink. You will get distracted and you don’t want to stare at your clock for 3 hours.
  • If your test is at home, do it on a weekend. It’ll give you time to do it with no distractions and to recover. I don’t recommend doing it on a day you have to be somewhere, just in case you experience any sort of adverse reactions.

As always, if you have any questions at all, leave a comment below. I’d be more than happy to answer! Best of luck with testing. It’s one of the easier tests out there, so just relax and follow instructions once you get it. Hopefully, it won’t take you as long as it took me to get tested and results! You got this. 

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