Reliability of breath-alcohol analysis in individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease

J Forensic Sci. 1999 Jul;44(4):814-8.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is widespread in the population among all age groups and in both sexes. The reliability of breath alcohol analysis in subjects suffering from GERD is unknown. We investigated the relationship between breath-alcohol concentration (BrAC) and blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) in 5 male and 5 female subjects all suffering from severe gastroesophageal reflux disease and scheduled for antireflux surgery. Each subject served in two experiments in random order about 1-2 weeks apart. Both times they drank the same dose of ethanol (approximately 0.3 g/kg) as either beer, white wine, or vodka mixed with orange juice before venous blood and end-expired breath samples were obtained at 5-10 min intervals for 4 h. An attempt was made to provoke gastroesophageal reflux in one of the drinking experiments by applying an abdominal compression belt. Blood-ethanol concentration was determined by headspace gas chromatography and breath-ethanol was measured with an electrochemical instrument (Alcolmeter SD-400) or a quantitative infrared analyzer (Data-Master). During the absorption of alcohol, which occurred during the first 90 min after the start of drinking, BrAC (mg/210 L) tended to be the same or higher than venous BAC (mg/dL). In the post-peak phase, the BAC always exceeded BrAC. Four of the 10 subjects definitely experienced gastric reflux during the study although this did not result in widely deviant BrAC readings compared with BAC when sampling occurred at 5-min intervals. We conclude that the risk of alcohol erupting from the stomach into the mouth owing to gastric reflux and falsely increasing the result of an evidential breath-alcohol test is highly improbable.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / complications
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / metabolism
  • Breath Tests*
  • Ethanol / pharmacokinetics*
  • Female
  • Forensic Medicine / methods
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / diagnosis*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Ethanol