Breath test could diagnose irritable bowel syndrome

John Murphy, MDLinx | May 16, 2016

Researchers have identified a combination of 16 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the breath that, when measured together, can accurately identify patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to a study published online May 2, 2016 in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.


Breathe test for irritable bowel syndrome IBS

A combination of 16 compounds in the breath can accurately identify a patient with IBS, researchers found. (Photo: Dalian Delin)

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that a set of VOCs in exhaled air was able to predict the presence of a common functional GI disorder, which can be considered an important first step forward in the design and development of reliable non-invasive biomarkers for IBS,” the authors wrote.

For this study, the investigators reasoned that because exhaled human breath contains hundreds of VOCs, metabolic differences may indicate certain states of disease—in this case, IBS.

The researchers collected breath samples from a known cohort of 170 patients with IBS and from 153 healthy control subjects, as well as from 1,307 participants in the general population.

After analyzing the samples with gas chromatography, the researchers found a pattern of 16 VOCs that indicated IBS, with a sensitivity of 89.4% and specificity of 73.3%.

The researchers also found that the VOCs moderately correlated with severity of GI symptoms—the worse the results of the breath test, the worse the patient’s symptoms. This finding could not only help identify disease severity, but could also be used to monitor the effects of treatment, the researchers predicted.

“Now we know which chemicals in breath have diagnostic information that we can use to develop noninvasive tools to follow the disease and to steer therapeutic interventions,” said the study’s senior author Frederik-Jan van Schooten, PhD, Professor of Genetic and Molecular Toxicology at Maastricht University, in Maastricht, The Netherlands.

“This will definitely make a difference in quality of life for patients suffering from this functional gastrointestinal disorder,” he added.