Genetic test for lactase non-persistence and hydrogen breath test: Is genotype better than phenotype to diagnose lactose malabsorption?

M. Di Stefano, V. Terulla, P. Tana, S. Mazzocchi, E. Romero, G. R. Corazza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Adult-type hypolactasia is a widespread condition throughout the world, causing lactose malabsorption. The lactose breath test is a simple tool for diagnosis but the need for prolonged monitoring of hydrogen excretion has led to a genetic test proposal. The aim of this study was to compare the genetic test with the lactose breath test in order to give some insights into the clinical value of genetic testing. Methods: Thirty-two consecutive functional patients underwent lactose breath test and lactase genetic polymorphism analysis (C/T 13910 and G/A 22018). Intolerance symptoms after lactose load were also monitored. Results: All patients with positive lactose breath test showed homozygosis for both polymorphisms. Among the nine patients with a negative breath test result, six showed heterozygosis while three showed homozygosis. Intolerance symptoms were present in 16 homozygotic patients but also in one heterozygotic patient. The k value for the agreement between the genetic test and the lactose breath test was 0.74. Conclusion: A positive genetic test for lactase non-persistence indicates whether lactase activity decline may represent a clinical problem for the patient, but does not give information on actual patient symptoms. On the contrary, this information is already available by combining the lactose breath test with intolerance symptom evaluation. Lactose absorption phenotype may be not yet evident until young adult age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)474-479
Number of pages6
JournalDigestive and Liver Disease
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


  • Genetic test
  • Hydrogen breath test
  • Lactase-phlorizin hydrolase
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Lactose malabsorption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology
  • Hepatology

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