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Helicobacter Pylori Urea Breath

Does this test have other names?

Urea breath test, UBT

What is this test?

This is a breath test that checks for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a common infection. H. pylori bacteria are spread through contact with feces from an infected person. Many people get this infection during childhood. The bacteria often live in the stomach lining without causing any symptoms or problems. But for some people, these bacteria cause ulcers and other stomach irritations.

While they live in your stomach lining, H. pylori process urea, a natural compound in the body. As the bacteria process urea, they create ammonia and bicarbonate. Traces of these can be found in your breath, which is proof that H. pylori live in your body. 

Why do I need this test?

This test may be done if you have been treated for H. pylori and your doctor wants to know if the treatment worked. This test is the easiest way to find out if H. pylori are living in your stomach.

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your doctor might also order these tests:

  • Blood tests

  • Endoscopy, in which a narrow, lighted tube is put into your stomach through your mouth to look at the lining of your stomach and take out small samples for testing

  • Stool sample 

What do my test results mean?

A result for a lab test may be affected by many things, including the method the laboratory uses to do the test. If your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.

The urea breath test is accurate more than 95 percent of the time. If the test is positive, H. pylori is present. If it's negative, you likely do not have H. pylori in your stomach. 

How is this test done?

This test is usually done first thing in the morning. You will be asked to fast for six hours and then will be given a special meal to eat. You will also be given a drink or capsule that contains urea. This urea helps the lab figure out if you have H. pylori. Over the next hour, you will breathe into a special bag at certain times – for example, every 10 to 20 minutes. The air you breathe will be collected and analyzed for signs of H. pylori.

Does this test pose any risks?

This test poses no risks. 

What might affect my test results?

If this test is done too soon after treatment, you could get a false-positive result. This means that the test could show that H. pylori are still present even though they are not. To get the best results, you should be retested at least four weeks after treatment for H. pylori.

Other factors that may affect results include:

  • Recent use of antibiotics

  • Recent use of bismuth

  • Recent use of proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs

The test is less accurate in young patients. 

How do I get ready for this test?

You must fast before this test. Ask your doctor how long you should not eat or drink before the test You will need to eat a meal that contains urea. This helps the lab find byproducts of urea after you digest it.

Be sure your doctor knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use. You may be asked to stop taking certain medicines before the test.