Clinical Utility of 13C-Liver-Function Breath Tests for Assessment of Hepatic Function
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13C-Liver-function breath tests have been used in clinical diagnostics and, to a limited extent, to investigate hepatic function. From a practical perspective, tests such as the 13C-aminopyrine and 13C-methacetin breath tests are simple to administer, safe, and relatively inexpensive to perform. Surprisingly, they have not entered the mainstream of clinical practice, because they are perceived to lack the specificity and adequate precision needed to give accurate results in real time. The dynamic nature of 13C-liver-function breath tests, their possible versatility in terms of assessing a range of different liver functions, and the ease with which they can be repeated to follow relative changes in liver function with time, all imply the potential for wider clinical application. Therefore, there is a need for these tests to be critically evaluated and their potential clinical application be tested systematically against defined objectives. We describe refinements in the methodology of the tests and propose several situations in which currently reliable methods for assessment of liver function do not exist and where 13C-liver-function breath tests might be of use. We propose that use has been constrained by practical methodological considerations which could be addressed to offer tests better suited to routine application in the out-patient or community setting.