A Helicobacter pylori breath test (also called a urea test) is a safe and non-invasive test that detects the presence of a specific species of gut bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). It’s also used to diagnose an active H. pylori infection and determine if treatment for the infection has been effective.
What is a Helicobacter pylori breath test?
Why is a Helicobacter pylori breath test performed?
H. pylori is a bacteria that can infect the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine that connects the stomach to the middle part of the small intestine). Having H. pylori bacteria is a major cause of peptic ulcers as it decreases the stomach’s protective mucus, making the stomach more susceptible to damage from digestive acids.
H. pylori can also be the cause:
Peptic ulcer disease
A gastroenterologist may suggest you have an H. pylori test if you have symptoms of any of these conditions, such as:
An ache or burning pain in your stomach or digestive tract (heartburn)
Pain that comes on after eating and is lessened by antacids
Nausea or vomiting
Loss of appetite
Unintentional weight loss
Preparing for a Helicobacter pylori breath test
There are a few things you will need to do in preparation for the test to ensure your results are as accurate as possible. These include:
Stopping taking any antibiotics one month before the test
Stopping taking any proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) including Losec, Nexium, lansoprazole, omeprazole, esomeprazole etc. two weeks before the test
Stopping taking any H2 receptor antagonists and pro-motility agents 2 days before testing
Not taking any antacids and stopping smoking the day before testing
Fasting (consume no food or drink, except small water) for 12 hours before the test
What does a Helicobacter pylori breath test involve?
The first step of an H. pylori test involves providing a control sample. To collect this, you will exhale into a balloon-like bag and the amount of carbon dioxide found will be used as a baseline to compare against further samples taken during testing.
Once the control sample has been collected you’ll be asked to drink a small about of solution or swallow a small pill containing a substance called urea.
You’ll then be asked to give two more breath samples after 10 minutes and another two after 30 minutes. This helps your consultant interpret how your body processes carbohydrates over time.
If H. pylori is present in your stomach the urea in the solution or pill will cause carbon to be released. This will be indicated by increased levels of carbon dioxide in your breath compared to the control sample.
For accurate results, you must not eat, drink, chew gum, smoke, sleep, or exercise during testing.
Recovering from a Helicobacter pylori breath test
A Helicobacter pylori breath test is non-invasive and low-risk. You can go home and start eating and drinking as soon as the test has finished and can also resume taking any medications as normal.
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