Background: Liver diseases can cause a sweet, musty aroma of the breath, called fetor hepaticus. Even in a stage of cirrhosis, the disease can be asymptomatic for many years. Breath analysis might be helpful to detect occult liver pathology.
Study objective: This study examined whether specific breath odor compounds can be found in liver patients, suffering from cirrhosis, which might be useful for diagnosis.
Materials and methods: Fifty-two liver patients and 50 healthy volunteers were enrolled. Alveolar air was analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Using discriminant analysis a model for liver disease was built.
Results: Dimethyl sulfide, acetone, 2-butanone and 2-pentanone were increased in breath of liver patients, while indole and dimethyl selenide were decreased. Sensitivity and specificity of the model were respectively 100% and 70%.
Conclusions: Fetor hepaticus is caused by dimethyl sulfide and to a lower extent by ketones in alveolar air. Breath analysis by GC-MS makes it possible to discriminate patients with breath malodor related to hepatic pathologies.