The metabolic fate of the radioactive carbon in the [sup 14]C-urea breath test for Helicobacter pylori was investigated in 18 subjects. After ingestion of labelled urea, breath was sampled for 24 h, and urine was collected for 3 days. Subjects were designated high or low expirers on the basis of their breath counts, and this agreed well with H. pylori serologic analyses. When given 185 or 37 kBq of [sup 14]C-urea, 51% of the label was recovered from the breath of high expirers, and 7% from the breath of low expirers. The mean combined urinary and breath recovery for high expirers was 86%, and for low expirers it was 97%. It is concluded that the long-term retention of [sup 14]C from ingested [sup 14]C-urea is low. The results enable a more accurate estimation to be made of radiation exposure resulting from the [sup 14]C-urea breath test. 16 refs., 3 figs., 2 tabs.