Over the last few years, breath analysis for the routine monitoring of metabolic disorders has attracted a considerable amount of scientific interest, especially since breath sampling is a non-invasive technique, totally painless and agreeable to patients. The investigation of human breath samples with various analytical methods has shown a correlation between the concentration patterns of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the occurrence of certain diseases. It has been demonstrated that modern analytical instruments allow the determination of many compounds found in human breath both in normal and anomalous concentrations. The composition of exhaled breath in patients with, for example, lung cancer, inflammatory lung disease, hepatic or renal dysfunction and diabetes contains valuable information. Furthermore, the detection and quantification of oxidative stress, and its monitoring during surgery based on composition of exhaled breath, have made considerable progress. This paper gives an overview of the analytical techniques used for sample collection, preconcentration and analysis of human breath composition. The diagnostic potential of different disease-marking substances in human breath for a selection of diseases and the clinical applications of breath analysis are discussed. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.