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

Why do I need this test?

You may need this test if you have been treated for H. pylori and your healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider 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?

Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you. 

The urea breath test is accurate more than 95% 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 may be asked to fast or may 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 known 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 4 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 a good choice for children, but is less accurate in children younger than 6 years. 

How do I get ready for this test?

You must fast before this test. Ask your healthcare provider 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. You may be asked to stop taking certain medicines before the test.

Be sure your healthcare provider 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.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Haldeman-Englert, Chad, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2017
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.