Helicobacter pylori

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Also known as: H. pylori antibody test; H. pylori antigen test; H. pylori breath test
Formal name: Helicobacter pylori

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To diagnose an infection with Helicobacter pylori

When to Get Tested?

If you have gastrointestinal pain or symptoms of an ulcer

Sample Required?

A breath test, tissue biopsy of the stomach lining via gastroscopy, stool sample, or blood sample from a vein

Test Preparation Needed?

None for the blood test; there are instructions for the breath test; specialised preparation is needed for a gastroscopy

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

These tests are looking for evidence of an infection by a bacterium, known as Helicobacter pylori. This bacterium is now known to be a major cause of peptic ulcer disease. H. pylori is also associated with the development of gastric cancer.

How is the sample collected for testing?

What is collected depends on the test your doctor requests. It may be as simple as submitting a stool (faecal) sample to look for the H. pylori antigen or a blood sample from your vein to detect an antibody to the bacteria.

A more invasive test will require a procedure called an endoscopy or gastroscopy, which means putting a tube down the throat into the stomach to take a small piece of tissue (a biopsy) from the stomach lining. A biopsy can be used to detect other reasons for stomach pain, as well as be tested in the laboratory for H. pylori. H. pylori produces urease, a special enzyme that allows it to survive in the acidic environment of the stomach.

The laboratory can detect the presence of this bacterium by looking for this enzyme in the tissue sample. The tissue may also be examined under a microscope by a pathologist, who will look for these bacteria or any other signs of disease that may explain your symptoms.

Sometimes a breath test can be used instead of a biopsy. You will be asked to drink a special liquid containing a harmless radioactive material. If H. pylori is present in your GI tract, the material will be broken down into radio-labelled carbon dioxide gas. By testing the expelled air collected from your breath sample, the laboratory can determine if this organism is in your body.

The Test

Common Questions

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