Smelling Your Breath For Stomach Ulcers and Liver Failure
The Stomach, Liver and Ammonia
Stomach (or peptic) ulcers are discontinuities of the mucus layer that lines the gastrointestinal tract somewhere in an area of this tract that is often acidic and thus quite painful. Despite the name and common belief most of them are not found in the stomach, but in the duodenum, the part of the small intestine just after the stomach. Not too long ago, it was thought that these ulcers arose mainly as a result of stress, but it has been discovered that they are mainly caused by the bacterium Heliobacter pylori.
One of the by-products of this bacterium, that lies at the base of peptic ulcers, other stomach complains, and is even thought to be connected with stomach cancer, is ammonia (NH3), a colorless gas with a pungent smell. Besides a variety of stomach complaints, a malfunctioning metabolism of the liver can also produce ammonia.
The Breath Smelling Device
Based on this knowledge, researchers have been developing a device (termed the Ammonia Breath Analyzer) that looks for traces of ammonia in the exhaled breath of potential stomach and/or liver patients.
At present, this device is still being tested extensively on patients with stomach or liver conditions, in order to ensure a high success rate and a low number of false positives. Through this testing, the settings of the device can be optimized for use on suspected patients.
At the same time, a more practical version of the Ammonia Breath Analyzer is in the works, specifically designed for family doctors. This new, practical version of the device should be able to identify stomach or liver conditions in suspected patients, thereby eliminating the need for impractical and expensive tests.
Of course, it should be noted that not all stomach and liver conditions can be ‘tracked down’ by this device, as it is based on identifying traces of ammonia, and not all stomach or liver conditions produce ammonia. So, if, after this test, no ammonia is found, other tests are still required. Nevertheless, stomach ulcers are a very common condition and thus this device can save both patients and hospitals a lot of money by eliminating the need for expensive tests.
- Gouma, P.; Kalyanasundaram, K. Xiao, Y.; Stanacevic, M. & Lisheng, W. (2010). Nanosensor and Breath Analyzer for Ammonia Detection in Exhaled Human Breath. Sensors Journal, IEEE. 10(1), pp. 49 – 53.
- Radboud University Nijmegen, News. (published 28 January 2011). A stomach ulcer in your breath.