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13C Urea Breath Test with Nondispersive Isotope-Selective Infrared Spectrometry: Reproducibility and Importance of the Fasting Status


Reprint requests to: Dr. F. Mana, Gastroenterology Unit, Academisch Ziekenhuis Free University of Brussels, Laarbeeklaan 101 B-1090 Brussels Belgium. E-mail:


Background. The 13C urea breath test (13C-UBT) is the most convenient method for diagnosing Helicobacter pylori infection noninvasively. Nondispersive isotope-selective infrared spectrometry (NDIRS) is an inexpensive and easy alternative to mass spectrometry. The objective of this study was to evaluate: (1) the reproducibility of the 13C-UBT as performed by using the NDIRS method; (2) the repeatability of bags analysis and the impact of delayed analysis; and (3) the need for fasting status for the 13C-UBT.

Methods. The 13C-UBT was performed with 75 mg urea labeled with 13C, with breath samples collected at times 0 and 30 minutes. Results are expressed as delta over baseline (0/00). Fifty-three patients underwent two successive 13C-UBTs with an interval of 48 to 72 hours. The 106 collected bags were randomly reanalyzed immediately or 72 hours later. In 26 volunteer subjects, the 13C-UBT was performed both in a fasting condition and after a nonstandardized meal. The reproducibility was assessed by the method of Bland and Altman.

Results. The mean of difference between two successive tests was 0.14 0/00 (standard deviation, 0.90), and the coefficient of repeatability was 1.80 (confidence interval, 95%). The difference between two successive analyses was always less than 2.2% of the initial value. The coefficient of variation between two successive tests for the influence of a meal was 11.24.

Conclusion. The 13C-UBT as performed by using NDIRS is reproducible, analyses can be delayed up to 72 hours, and the test must be performed in fasting conditions.