In up to one-third of patients with calcium oxalate stones, a hyperoxaluria can be detected. Hyperoxaluria can result from increased endogenous production, from excessive oxalate content of the food, or from intestinal hyperabsorption. For a causal therapy, it is important to discriminate between metabolic and hyperabsorptive hyperoxaluria. Our new 13C-oxalate test allows this differentiation. Under standardized conditions, 50 mg of disodium salt of [13C2]oxalic acid was applied. From the amount of labeled oxalate excreted in urine as measured by a gas chromatographic-mass spectrometric assay, the intestinal absorption was calculated. Seventy patients with recurrent calcium oxalate urolithiasis who had no signs of inflammatory bowel disease were tested. Their mean intestinal oxalate absorption was 9.2+/-5.1%. This was significantly higher than the mean absorption of 50 healthy volunteers (6.7+/-3.9%). There was no difference in oxalate absorption between male (n = 25) and female volunteers. Oxalate absorption correlated with the oxalate excretion in the 24-h urine (volunteers: r = 0.46, P < 0.01; patients: r = 0.62, P < 0.001). Oxalate hyperabsorption was defined as an absorption exceeding 10%. According to this definition, 34% of the patients had oxalate hyperabsorption; 20% of the volunteers showed a hyperabsorption, too. The 13C-oxalate absorption test allows reliable determination of intestinal oxalate absorption. Because of the use of a stable isotope, this test may be repeated as often as required. It will allow the control of therapeutic regimens and also help to unravel genetic influences in stone formation.