Breath test spots diseases

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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CLEVELAND, Ohio - Every minute, the average person takes about 15 breaths and researchers at the Cleveland Clinic say those breaths can reveal a lot about your health.

"Anything in your blood that is potentially volatile will end up in your breath," said Dr. Raed Dweik, MD, Director of the Pulmonary Vascular Program at the Cleveland Clinic.

Researchers have been studying whether a simple breath test could detect conditions like liver, kidney and heart disease. In a recent pilot study they were able to show the test was 100 percent accurate at identifying patients with heart failure.

"We were so surprised by it that we actually did it twice!"  Dweik said.

They duplicated the results in the second trial. The test has also been able to detect patients with acute alcoholic hepatitis, a condition that has no diagnostic test.

"With more than a 90 percent accuracy, we could pick these patients every time we tested them," Dweik explained.

Lung cancer is another disease picked up by the breath test. Previous studies have shown around 80 percent accuracy, but at the 2013 chest conference, Dr. Peter Mazzone, director of Cleveland Clinic's Respiratory Institute Lung Cancer Program, reported on an advanced version of the sensor.

"The early results suggest that we've been able to improve our accuracy," Mazzone said.

Offering patients a simple, pain-free glimpse into their health.

Doctors hope the test will be able to detect other cancers in the future. A study testing the breath test on kidney disease patients is ending and doctors say the results will be published soon.

Additional Information

By simply testing one's breath, a multitude of health problems can be diagnosed. For centuries, doctors have noticed that disorders with the kidneys and liver have added a unique smell to the breath. Today, these tests are being expanded upon to help find asthma, diabetes and tuberculosis. Breath tests are also easier to administer than other tests. Compared to blood tests, a breath test is less expensive, yields results in a mere fraction of the time and can be repeated as much as necessary. Much like a finger print, each individual carries with them their own unique breath signature. When the breath is exhaled, tiny droplets of proteins, antibodies and DNA are sent out that contain an array of health information. (Source: Melinda Beck,


  • Hydrogen Breath Test – This test is mainly used to detect lactose intolerance and bacterial overgrowth. It's performed in the doctor's office where the patient is asked to ingest milk, soda, or sugar water. When the patient exhales into the Breathalyzer, the doctor's will analyze how much hydrogen is carried in the breath.
  • Urea Breath Test – This test is simpler to perform compared to the hydrogen breath test. This test detects Helicobacter Pylori, which is a bacteria found in the stomach, which can lead to the development of ulcers. The test around 30 minutes to complete and typically yields results in about two to three days. (Source:

NEW FINDING: Over the past few years, there's been an increased use of breath tests to detect different liver and kidney disorders, stomach problems and various other health issues. But now a new type of breath test is being tested that's not only able to detect diseases with the kidney and liver, but heart disease and lung cancer as well. This new test works by using a sensor that will change color based on which chemicals are being exhaled from the breath. Testing has shown that people suffering with heart disease have a distinctive breath pattern from the people who don't. (Source: Peter Mazzone, MD)

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