Volatile organic compounds from feces and their potential for diagnosis of gastrointestinal disease

FASEB J. 2007 Jun;21(8):1675-88. doi: 10.1096/fj.06-6927com. Epub 2007 Feb 21.


Little is known about the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in feces and their potential health consequences. Patients and healthcare professionals have observed that feces often smell abnormal during gastrointestinal disease. The aim of this work was to define the volatiles emitted from the feces of healthy donors and patients with gastrointestinal disease. Our hypotheses were that i) VOCs would be shared in health; ii) VOCs would be constant in individuals; and iii) specific changes in VOCs would occur in disease. Volatile emissions in health were defined in a cohort and a longitudinal study. Subsequently, the pattern of volatiles found in the cohort study were compared to that found from patients with ulcerative colitis, Campylobacter jejuni, and Clostridium difficile. Volatiles from feces were collected by solid-phase microextraction and analyzed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. In the cohort study, 297 volatiles were identified. In all samples, ethanoic, butanoic, pentanoic acids, benzaldehyde, ethanal, carbon disulfide, dimethyldisulfide, acetone, 2-butanone, 2,3-butanedione, 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one, indole, and 4-methylphenol were found. Forty-four compounds were shared by 80% of subjects. In the longitudinal study, 292 volatiles were identified, with some inter and intra subject variations in VOC concentrations with time. When compared to healthy donors, volatile patterns from feces of patients with ulcerative colitis, C. difficile, and C. jejuni were each significantly different. These findings could lead the way to the development of a rapid diagnostic device based on VOC detection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Infections / diagnosis*
  • Campylobacter jejuni / isolation & purification
  • Campylobacter jejuni / metabolism
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Clostridioides difficile / isolation & purification
  • Clostridioides difficile / metabolism
  • Feces / chemistry*
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis*
  • Specimen Handling


  • Organic Chemicals