The role of colonic methane production in functional bowel disorders is still uncertain. In small samples of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients, it was shown that methane breath excretion correlates with clinical presentation and delayed gastrointestinal transit time. The aim of this study was to evaluate the relationship between intestinal production and breath excretion of CH4 and to correlate CH4 production with the presence and the severity of symptoms, in a large cohort of IBS patients and in a group of healthy volunteers.METHODS:A group of 103 IBS patients and a group of 28 healthy volunteers were enrolled. The presence and severity of symptoms and gastrointestinal transit were evaluated in all subjects, who underwent breath H 2/CH4 measurement for 7 h after lactulose to identify breath excretors of these gases; H2 and CH4 were also measured in rectal samples to identify colonic producers. Cumulative H2 and CH4 excretion and production were evaluated by the area under the time-concentration curve calculation (AUC).RESULTS:In IBS patients, CH4 was detected in rectal samples in 48 patients (47%), but only 27 of them (26% of the 103 enrolled patients) excreted this gas with breath. In CH4 producers, the prevalence and severity of symptoms and gastrointestinal transit time were not significantly different with respect to non-producers. IBS subtypes were homogeneously represented in CH4 producers and in non-producers. Healthy volunteers, compared with IBS patients, showed a significantly lower prevalence of CH4 excretion, whereas no difference was found in the prevalence of colonic CH4 production; moreover, in healthy volunteers compared with IBS, CH4 breath excretion and CH4 production were not different in quantitative terms.CONCLUSION:Our data show that colonic CH4 production is not associated with clinical presentation in IBS patients and does not correlate with symptom severity or with gastrointestinal transit time. Clinical inferences based on breath CH4 excretion should undergo an in-depth revision, as this method is not a good marker of CH4 colonic production.
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