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Helicobacter pylori tests are used to detect a Helicobacter pylori ( H. pylori) infection in the stomach and upper part of the small intestine (duodenum). H. pylori can cause peptic ulcers. But most people with H. pylori in their digestive systems do not develop ulcers.
Three tests are used to detect H. pylori:
A Helicobacter pylori ( H. pylori) test is done to:
Medicines may change the results of this test. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the prescription and non-prescription medicines you take. Your doctor may recommend that you stop taking some of your medicines.
You will be asked to not eat or drink anything for a certain amount of time before having a breath test or a stomach biopsy. Follow your doctor's instructions about how long you need to avoid eating and drinking before the test.
Many medicines may change the results of this test. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the prescription and non-prescription medicines you take. Your doctor may recommend that you stop taking some of your medicines.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results may mean.
The breath sample is collected when you blow into a balloon or blow bubbles into a bottle of liquid. The health professional taking a sample of your breath will:
The stool sample for this test may be collected at home. If you are in the hospital, a health professional will help you collect the sample.
To collect the sample, you need to:
Your doctor may also use a cotton swab inserted into your rectum to collect a stool sample during an examination.
A urea breath test does not normally cause discomfort.
Collecting a stool sample normally does not cause any discomfort.
If your doctor collects the sample during a rectal examination, you may feel some pressure or discomfort as the cotton swab is inserted into your rectum.
You may notice a brief, sharp pain when the intravenous (IV) needle is placed in a vein in your arm. The local anesthetic sprayed into your throat usually tastes slightly bitter and will make your tongue and throat feel numb and swollen. Some people report that they feel as if they cannot breathe at times because of the tube in their throat, but this is a false sensation caused by the anesthetic. There is always plenty of breathing space around the tube in your mouth and throat. Remember to relax and take slow, deep breaths.
You may experience some gagging, nausea, bloating, or mild abdominal cramping as the tube is moved. Even though you won't be able to talk during the procedure because you have a tube in your throat, you can still communicate. If the discomfort is severe, alert your doctor with an agreed-upon signal or a tap on the arm.
The IV medicines will make you feel sleepy. Other side effects—such as heavy eyelids, difficulty speaking, a dry mouth, or blurred vision—may last for several hours after the test. The medicines may also cause you not to remember much of what happens during the test.
There are no known risks or complications with a urea breath test. If radioactive carbon is used, the amount of radioactivity exposure is extremely small—less than you normally get from being outside during the day.
There are no risks or complications with a stool sample. But if you do not wash your hands well after collecting the sample, you may spread germs.
There is a slight risk (1 in 10,000) of puncturing the wall of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum during an endoscopy to collect stomach biopsy samples. The biopsy may also cause some bleeding at the site where the samples are collected. But the bleeding usually stops without treatment. To learn more, see the topic Upper Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.
Helicobacter pylori tests are used to detect a Helicobacter pylori ( H. pylori) infection in the stomach and upper part of the small intestine (duodenum).
Results from the urea breath test or a stool antigen test are usually available within a few hours. Results from biopsy samples obtained by endoscopy are usually available within 48 hours. Results from a biopsy sample that is cultured can take up to 10 days.
The breath sample does not contain the tagged carbon dioxide.
The breath sample contains the tagged carbon dioxide.
The stool sample does not contain H. pylori antigens.
The stool sample contains H. pylori antigens.
The biopsy sample does not contain H. pylori bacteria.
H. pylori bacteria does not grow in a culture of the tissue biopsy samples.
The biopsy sample contains H. pylori bacteria.
H. pylori bacteria grows in a culture of the tissue biopsy samples.
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include the following:
CitationsChey WD, et al. (2007). American College of Gastroenterology guideline of the management of Helicobacter pylori infection. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 102(8): 1808–1825.Other Works ConsultedChernecky CC, Berger BJ (2013). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 6th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
Adaptation Date: 2/25/2020
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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