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Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori) Test
Updated on October 3, 2022
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At Home Health
Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori) Test

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a type of bacteria that lives in your digestive system. It can damage the tissues lining your upper digestive tract.

“The signs and symptoms of H. pylori infection include burning pain on the abdomen, sharp pain during or after eating, nausea, vomiting, or unintentional weight loss,” says Dr. Rizza Mira.

There are several ways to test for the presence of H. pylori in your gut. Your results can tell you if the bacteria cause your digestive symptoms. Early diagnosis helps you get proper treatment.

We asked the help of Dr. Rizza Mira, a general practitioner, on everything there is to know about H. pylori testing.

Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori) Test 2

Quick Facts on H. Pylori Testing

  • H. pylori is a bacteria that can infect your stomach lining
  • Infections can lead to peptic ulcers and inflammation
  • Testing for H. Pylori can  diagnose the infection
  • An H. Pylori diagnostic test needs a sample of your stool, breath, or blood
  • To prepare for the test, you may need to avoid certain medications

What Is Being Tested With An H. Pylori Test?

The test checks the presence of H. pylori, a bacteria that causes irritation (gastritis) and painful sores to develop on the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine.

It also tests if an H. pylori infection causes the symptoms or ulcers in your digestive tract. 

When Should You Take An H. Pylori Test?

H. Pylori infections are common — half of the world’s population has this bacteria in their bodies. However, not everyone with the infection has symptoms. 

H. pylori can also increase your risk for:

  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Gastritis (stomach inflammation)
  • Gastric or stomach cancer

Your doctor may order an H. Pylori test when you have pain in your digestive tract, and other signs of H. pylori infection.

You may also be asked to take the test 4 to 6 weeks after you finish treatment for H. Pylori infection. This helps your doctor confirm that the medications cured the infection.

Signs of H. Pylori Infection

The bacteria causes your stomach to produce less mucus. In turn, it makes the stomach susceptible to digestive acid and peptic ulcers.

You may have an H. pylori infection if you have:

  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Excessive burping

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How Do You Test for H. Pylori?

Diagnostic tests may be done using a stool sample, a breath test, and a blood test:

Urea Breath Test

“The breath test can check for the presence of H. pylori in the stomach or detect an active infection. Doctors also used it to find out if the H. pylori treatment worked,” says Dr. Mira.

A healthcare professional will make you breathe into a bag to collect two breath samples. The initial sample serves as their baseline. 

Next, they’ll ask you to swallow a specially marked liquid or pill containing a harmless substance called urea. They’ll collect a second sample after 15 minutes. 

If there is H. pylori in your gastrointestinal tract, they’ll break down the urea into marked carbon dioxide gas, which you’ll expel when you exhale.

The samples will be compared in a lab. If the marked carbon dioxide in your second breath sample is higher than the normal level, it means there are H. pylori in your gut.

You may need to talk to a doctor about all your medications. You may be asked to avoid these medications 2 to 4 weeks before the test:

  • Antibiotics or oral bismuth subsalicylate
  • Prescription or over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole, lansoprazole, or esomeprazole

An hour before the breath test, you must refrain from eating or drinking anything, even water.

Stool Antigen Test

According to Dr. Mira, antigen tests look for proteins that trigger an immune response. This suggests the presence of an infection.

Unlike other lab tests, this test requires that you collect a stool sample at home. You should place your stool in a clean, dry plastic container with a screw-cap lid. 

You may wear protective gloves to avoid contamination. And make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

You must bring the sample to the lab immediately for the best results. They’ll test it for antigens or proteins linked to an H. pylori infection.

About 14 days before sending in your specimen, your doctor may ask you to steer clear of certain medications, such as:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antacids
  • Bismuth treatments
  • Peptic ulcer medicines (e.g., PPIs and histamine receptor (H2) blockers)

Blood Test

Blood tests check your bloodstream for the presence of antibodies or infection-fighting cells. However, Dr. Mira warns that blood testing isn’t as accurate.

“Blood tests can’t tell whether your H. pylori infection is still active. Your results may remain positive for years after you’ve been cured,” she explains.

A healthcare professional will draw a blood sample from your arm with a needle. Your blood sample is collected into a vial or test tube. 

How to Interpret Your H. Pylori Test Results

If your test result shows positive, it means that your symptoms may be due to peptic ulcers caused by H. pylori. 

On the other hand, a negative result indicates you’re unlikely to have an infection. Your symptoms may have a different cause. 

However, if your symptoms persist, you may have to undergo other tests like an endoscopy. This will help your doctor rule out what’s causing them.

H. Pylori Test FAQs

Here are common questions on H. Pylori testing:

How do I get infected with H. pylori?

Healthcare experts believe that you can get infected with H. pylori if you eat food or drink water that contains contaminated human stool. 

It is also transmitted directly via contact with infected human stool, vomit, or saliva. For example, you can catch it when you’re exposed to family members with H. pylori.

Does an H. pylori infection always lead to an ulcer?

It’s unclear why some people with H. pylori infections get peptic ulcers while others don’t.

But H. pylori doesn’t always lead to ulcers. Many people show signs of infection but have no symptoms of ulcerative diseases. 

How do you treat H. pylori?

Treating an H. pylori infection includes taking antibiotics and medications that lower the production of stomach acid in your GI tract.

Treatment usually lasts for several weeks. Examples of medications that treat high stomach acidity include PPI, H2 blockers, and bismuth preparation.

Should I get tested for H. pylori?

H. pylori is a common infection, but not everyone gets ulcers from it. Testing is suggested only for those who show signs and symptoms.

Can you take an H. pylori test at home?

Yes. At-home breath tests and stool tests can also test for H. pylori infections. Doctors may hand out breath or stool test kits so you can take them home.  

The general guidelines for taking an at-home breath or stool test are as follows:

● Follow the instructions on the package and labels of your testing kit
● If you need extra help, talk to your doctor about how to take the tests
● Collect your samples in a dry and sterile container to avoid contamination
● Bring your samples to the clinic or lab right away to process the result

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Resources

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  1. Helicobacter Pylori.” John Hopkins Medicine.
  2. H. Pylori (Helicobacter Pylori) Breath Test / Urea Breath Test.” Cleveland Clinic.
  3. Pathogenesis of Helicobacter pylori Infection.” American Society for Microbiology.
  4. Stomach ulcer.” NHS.
  5. H. pylori, a true stomach “bug”: Who should doctors test and treat?” Harvard Health Publishing.
  6. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection.” Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
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