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Do At-Home Tests for Stomach Problems Work? Pros and Cons

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • There is growing interest in using at-home tests to gain insight into an individual’s gut microbiome and diagnose conditions like SIBO and IBS.
  • While many at-home tests exist, it’s important to remember that microbiome science and personalized nutrition are still evolving. 
  • Some alternatives to at-home tests include consulting with a healthcare provider, getting in-office diagnostic testing done, or using on-demand blood testing.

If you have stomach problems, you probably want to figure out what’s causing your symptoms so you can treat them and return to a life free from digestive distress.

There is growing interest in using at-home tests to gain insight into your personal gut health.

But does an at-home test for stomach problems solve your gut health woes?

Read on to learn about the available tests, their pros and cons, and alternative approaches to identify what’s causing your symptoms. 

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Are At-Home Gut Health Tests Accurate?

Since there are several different types of at-home tests for stomach problems, there isn’t one answer to whether the tests are accurate.

Most at-home stool tests identify your gut microbiome and provide personalized recommendations based on your specific microbes.

However, studies show that the gut microbiome constantly changes, so a stool sample can only provide information about your microbiome at the time of testing. 

Studies also show that everyone has essentially the same core stool microbiome.

In addition, the stool microbiome may not accurately reflect the microbial structure of different parts of the digestive tract.

Overall, microbiome testing is still relatively new, and we have yet to define a “healthy” or “normal” gut microbiome. 

Another commonly used at-home test for stomach problems is a breath test designed to diagnose small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

These tests have two parts: drinking a solution of lactulose or glucose then measuring the hydrogen gas production. 

However, studies have found that these tests are much less accurate for diagnosing SIBO than tests where fluid from the upper intestinal tract is collected and cultured.

Nonetheless, SIBO breath tests are much less invasive than collecting fluid from the gastrointestinal tract, so they are often the preferred method of testing for SIBO.

How Do They Work?

An at-home test for stomach problems will work differently depending on the type of test.

Stool tests that analyze your gut microbiome use gene sequencing to detect the presence of different microbes in your stool sample. 

Breath tests used to diagnose SIBO measure the production of different gases after a set time period.

If the gas levels are higher than the cutoff, it’s an indication that there is microbial overgrowth in the small intestine. 

Types of At-Home Tests

There are many different at-home tests for stomach problems, including stool tests, breath tests, and blood tests.

Stool Tests

Stool tests are some of the most common at-home tests for stomach problems.

They typically gather information about your microbiome.

Many companies offer gut microbiome testing, but some popular companies include Thorne, Viome, and Floré.

You can buy these test kits online and collect a small stool sample using the instructions and materials provided.

You then mail the kit to the company’s diagnostic lab.

You should receive your results within a few weeks.

Your results will also include personalized recommendations regarding diet, probiotics, and other supplements based on your unique microbiome profile.

If you have IBS, microbiome testing could be a useful tool.

A research study by Viome found that the precision nutritional recommendations provided after stool analysis reduced disease severity by 38% in people with severe IBS.

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Breath Tests

Breath tests are commonly used in healthcare settings to diagnose conditions such as lactose intolerance, Helicobacter pylori infections, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and intestinal methanogen overgrowth (IMO).

While many at-home breath tests exist, not all measure the three primary fermented gases your gut microbiome produces.

Trio-Smart is the only breath test measuring hydrogen, methane, and hydrogen sulfide gases.

This doctor-ordered test includes nine collection bags that you breathe into over a 2-hour period after drinking a sugar substrate drink.

Once you’ve collected your samples, you ship them to Trio-Smart’s CLIA-certified lab.

Test results will be sent to your doctor within one week.

Blood Tests

IBS-Smart and IBSchek measure specific antibodies in people with IBS-D and IBS-M.

These antibodies are produced when an individual has recently had a gastrointestinal infection.

They are not commonly high in individuals with IBS-C, so these tests cannot be used to diagnose IBS-C.

A licensed physician must request these tests.

Pros and Cons of At-Home Tests for Stomach Problems

Consider the pros and cons of using an at-home test for stomach problems when deciding whether to use one. 

Pros

There are many positive aspects of using an at-home test for stomach problems.

These include convenience, privacy, cost-effectiveness, and early detection of potential issues. 

Convenience

One of the most important advantages of at-home testing is convenience.

Many at-home tests allow you to collect your sample from the comfort of your home.

The sample is then mailed to a lab for testing, and you receive your results within a few weeks. 

Privacy

Another important aspect of at-home testing is privacy.

This factor can be especially important for people needing to collect a stool sample.

People may not feel comfortable collecting a stool sample at a lab, so being able to collect it at home and mail it discreetly can be helpful.

Cost-Effective

If you don’t have insurance, the cost of diagnostic testing in a clinical setting can add up quickly.

At-home tests may offer a more cost-effective solution, with many tests costing around $200-$300.

Early Detection of Potential Issues

Certain at-home test kits, such as colon cancer screening kits, could help detect potential issues early, allowing for more timely treatment. 

Cons

While there are many benefits to using an at-home test for stomach problems, some disadvantages exist.

These include the limited accuracy of certain tests, lack of professional interpretation, and user error. 

Limited Accuracy

Unfortunately, many at-home tests aren’t accurate.

For example, at-home microbiome tests may not provide accurate information because they only measure the microbiome at one moment in time.

Since the microbiome composition can shift due to changes in diet and other factors, the sample may not represent a person’s “usual” microbial makeup. 

Lack of Professional Interpretation

While some tests, like Floré, will connect you with a board-certified healthcare provider to help interpret your results and provide guidance regarding the next steps, not all tests provide this service.

Sometimes, you may need to take your test results to your family doctor, gastroenterologist, or registered dietitian for interpretation and recommendations.

User Error

Since at-home test kits rely on individuals to collect their own samples, there is the potential for samples to be contaminated or incorrectly collected.

For example, many breath test kits for SIBO and IMO require you to breathe into a tube or collection bag at different time intervals.

These time intervals are important because producing certain gases after certain time intervals determines whether a person has SIBO or IMO.

If a person doesn’t collect the samples at the correct times, it could influence the test results. 

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Alternatives to At-Home Tests for Stomach Problems

If you’re experiencing stomach or gut problems, it’s important to investigate what could be causing your symptoms.

While gut symptoms can sometimes be a sign of IBS, they can also signal other, potentially more harmful conditions, such as IBD or colorectal cancer.

Persistent stomach problems can also significantly impact your daily functioning and quality of life.

Consult with a Healthcare Professional

One of the best things you can do if you’re experiencing persistent stomach or gut symptoms is speak with a healthcare professional like a family doctor, gastroenterologist, or registered dietitian.

Your family doctor or gastroenterologist may order specific tests to help diagnose your condition.

While a registered dietitian typically doesn’t order diagnostic tests, they can be an important part of your treatment team since many stomach and gut conditions require nutritional management.

For example, if you have celiac disease, you must avoid all foods containing gluten.

This can be a big change for many people, and having a dietitian to walk you through the ins and outs of the gluten-free diet can be very helpful. 

In-Office Diagnostic Tests

When you consult a healthcare professional, they may recommend in-office diagnostic tests to glean information regarding your symptoms.

Some common tests that may be ordered include fecal occult blood test, fecal calprotectin, and stool culture.

Fecal Occult Blood Test

This test checks for the presence of hidden blood in your stool.

You will collect a stool sample, which will then be placed on a special card and tested in your doctor’s office or lab.

Fecal Calprotectin

Calprotectin is a protein found in the bodies of people experiencing inflammation.

It can be useful for distinguishing between disorders of the gut-brain interaction (like IBS) and inflammatory conditions like IBD.

Stool Culture

You will collect a small amount of stool for this test at your doctor’s office.

It will be sent to a lab by their office. After 2-3 days, you will receive results indicating if abnormal bacteria are present.

On-Demand Lab Testing

Some people may order their own blood work to avoid going through the processing time typically associated with getting blood work through a doctor’s office.

Many companies offer this service.

However, these tests can be costly, so it’s worth considering if the added convenience of not going to the doctor is worth the additional cost.

Other Considerations for Choosing Testing Options

If you have insurance, you may have more affordable testing options.

If blood work and other tests are covered by your insurance, they may be more affordable than spending $200-$300 on an at-home test kit online.  

Some at-home tests, such as Viome, are HSA/FSA-eligible if you have a letter from a doctor.

The Viome website offers a way to get this letter through Truemed.

Takeaway

Many options are available if you’re searching for an at-home test for stomach problems.

From stool tests that test your microbiome to breath tests to diagnose SIBO and blood tests to diagnose certain types of IBS, at-home tests are becoming more popular and affordable.

Unfortunately, many at-home tests are not as accurate as other validated tests for diagnosing stomach problems and other digestive concerns.

While these tests may be useful for gaining initial insights into the causes of your symptoms, they don’t replace care from a licensed healthcare professional.

If you’re struggling with stomach problems, it’s important to seek care from a doctor to rule out potentially harmful causes of your symptoms. 

How a Dietitian Can Help

If you’re struggling with stomach and gut problems, a dietitian can help you determine whether your symptoms are caused by food.

Plus, if you’ve been diagnosed with a condition like celiac disease or IBS, nutritional intervention is an important part of your treatment plan. 

At Nourish, dietitian services are 100% remote and covered by insurance. Book your appointment with a Nourish gut health dietitian today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a home test for stomach issues?

There are several at-home tests for stomach issues available.

These include stool tests, breath tests, and blood tests.

However, not all of these tests are accurate, so caution should be used when making health decisions based on the results of these tests.

Can you test your gut health at home?

Several tests are available to provide information about your unique gut microbiome.

However, we still don’t have a clear definition of what makes a “healthy” or “normal” gut microbiome, so results from these studies must be interpreted with caution.

How do you test for stomach problems?

The best way to test for stomach problems is to speak with your doctor about your symptoms.

Based on your symptoms, your doctor will order different tests to help determine the underlying cause.

These tests could include a blood test to identify celiac disease or a breath test to identify lactose intolerance or an H. pylori infection.

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