What is this test?
This test measures the levels of antibodies against Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) in the blood. H. pylori are bacteria that can invade your intestine. H. pylori infection is one of the main causes of peptic ulcer disease. This happens when the inflammation caused by the bacteria affects the mucous lining of your stomach or duodenum, the first section of your small intestine. This causes sores in the lining and is called peptic ulcer disease.
This test can help your healthcare provider find out if your peptic ulcers are caused by H. pylori. If antibodies are present, it may mean that they are there to fight the H. pylori bacteria. The H. pylori bacteria is one of the main causes of peptic ulcers, but peptic ulcers can also develop from other causes, such as taking too many nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.
Tests for H pylori
Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) is the bacteria (germ) responsible for most stomach (gastric) and duodenal ulcers and many cases of stomach inflammation (chronic gastritis).
How is the test performed?
There are several methods to detect H. pylori infection.
Breath test (Urea Carbon Isotope Breath Test, or UBT)
- Up to 2 weeks before the test, you should stop taking antibiotics, bismuth-based medicines like Pepto-Bismol, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
- During the test, you swallow a special substance that contains urea. Urea is a waste product that the body makes when it breaks down protein. The urea used in the test has become harmlessly radioactive.
- If H pylori are present, the bacteria convert urea to carbon dioxide, which is detected and recorded in the exhaled breath after 10 minutes.
- This test can identify almost everyone who has H. pylori. It can also be used to check that the infection has been completely treated.
- Blood tests are used to measure antibodies against H. pylori. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body’s immune system when it detects harmful substances such as bacteria.
- Blood tests for H pylori can only tell if your body has antibodies against H pylori. You cannot tell if you have a current infection or how long you have had it. This is because the test can be positive for years, even if the infection is cured. As a result, blood tests cannot be used to see if the infection is cured after treatment.
- A stool test can detect traces of H pylori in the stool.
- This test can be used to diagnose the infection and confirm that it has been cured after treatment.
- A tissue sample, called a biopsy, is taken from the stomach lining. This is the most accurate way to tell if you have an H. pylori infection.
- To remove the tissue sample, you have a procedure called an endoscopy. The procedure is performed in the hospital or outpatient centre.
- A biopsy is usually done if endoscopy is needed for other reasons. Reasons include diagnosing the ulcer, treating the bleeding, or making sure there is no cancer.
Why do I need this test?
You may need this test if your healthcare provider suspects you have peptic ulcer disease. Symptoms include:
- Burning sensation in the belly
- tenderness in your belly
- Stabbing pain in your belly
- intestinal bleeding
What other tests could I have along with this test?
Your healthcare provider may also order other tests to look for the actual presence of the H. pylori bacteria. These tests may include a stool sample test or an endoscopy, in which a thin tube with a camera on the end is passed down the throat and into the upper gastrointestinal tract. With special instruments, your healthcare provider can remove a small piece of tissue to look for H. pylori.
What do my test results mean?
Test results can vary based on your age, gender, health history, and other things. Your test results may be different depending on the laboratory used. It may not mean that you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you.
Normal results are negative, which means that no antibodies to H. pylori were found and that you do not have an infection with these bacteria. A positive result means that antibodies to H. pylori were found. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have an active H. pylori infection. Antibodies to H. pylori can stay in your body long after your immune system has cleared the bacteria.
How is this test done?
The test is done on a blood sample. A needle is used to draw blood from a vein in the arm or hand.
Does this test have any risks?
Taking a blood test with a needle carries some risks. These include bleeding, infection, bruising, and feeling dizzy. When the needle pokes your arm or hand, you may feel a slight sting or pain. Subsequently, the site may be so.
What could affect my test results?
A past infection with H. pylori can affect your results and give you a false positive.
How do I prepare for this test?
You do not need to prepare for this test. Make sure your healthcare provider knows about all the medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that do not need a prescription and any illegal drugs that you may use.