The Measurement of Ammonia in Human Breath and its Potential in Clinical Diagnostics

N T Brannelly, J P Hamilton-Shield, A J Killard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)
842 Downloads (Pure)


Ammonia is an important component of metabolism and is involved in many physiological processes. During normal physiology, levels of blood ammonia are between 11 and 50 µM. Elevated blood ammonia levels are associated with a variety of pathological conditions such as liver and kidney dysfunction, Reye's syndrome and a variety of inborn errors of metabolism including urea cycle disorders, organic acidaemias and hyperinsulinism/hyperammonaemia syndrome in which ammonia may reach levels in excess of 1 mM. It is highly neurotoxic and so effective measurement is critical for assessing and monitoring disease severity and treatment. Ammonia is also a potential biomarker in exercise physiology and studies of drug metabolism. Current ammonia testing is based on blood sampling, which is inconvenient and can be subject to significant analytical errors due to the quality of the sample draw, its handling and preparation for analysis. Blood ammonia is in gaseous equilibrium with the lungs. Recent research has demonstrated the potential use of breath ammonia as a non-invasive means of measuring systemic ammonia. This requires measurement of ammonia in real breath samples with associated temperature, humidity and gas characteristics at concentrations between 50 and several thousand parts per billion. This review explores the diagnostic applications of ammonia measurement and the impact that the move from blood to breath analysis could have on how these processes and diseases are studied and managed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)490-501
Number of pages12
JournalCritical Reviews in Analytical Chemistry
Issue number6
Early online date23 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


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