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What is an Urea Breath Test?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2016
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An urea breath test, sometimes called a carbon urea breath test, is used to detect a bacteria known as helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). The test is used to find the bacteria in the stomach. Helicobacter pylori can cause a helicobacter pylori infection, gastric or peptic ulcers and gastritis. Individuals with these conditions or suspected to have one of these conditions may undergo this type of test. In most cases, urea breath testing lasts around 30 minutes and is performed on an outpatient basis.

Some people with small traces of helicobacter pylori bacteria may show no outward symptoms. For others, the bacteria can cause serious complications. If the bacteria spreads into the stomach and portions of the small intestines known as the duodenum, an infection can occur. The bacteria may also cause an erosion or ulcer to form in these areas. Certain gastric cancers and inflammation of the lining of the stomach may also be caused by helicobacter pylori bacteria.

During a helicobacter pylori urea breath test, samples will be taken to analyze the breath for carbon dioxide. Urea, a chemical waste, is turned into carbon dioxide by helicobacter pylori bacteria. The test will usually begin by having the patient exhale into a specialized bag. Next, he or she may be given a carbon isotope-containing capsule or solution to swallow. Another breath sample will be obtained and examined for a significant increase in carbon dioxide, which will denote the presence of helicobacter pylori.

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Patients undergoing an urea breath test will be informed if they need to make any preparations beforehand. Some patients may be asked to stop consuming foods and drinks within a couple of hours of having the test. If this is requested and the patient accidentally eats, it will be necessary to inform the doctor. It is also important to alert doctors of any medications currently being taken. Certain medicines may negatively impact the results of this type of breath test.

Typically, normal activities may be continued after having a urea breath test. The samples will be forwarded to a laboratory for an analysis and the doctor will inform the patient of the test results. Patients whose breath test reveal a helicobacter pylori infection will need follow-up treatment. In most cases, antibiotics are used to treat an infection of this nature. Individuals with an infection may be advised to complete their entire dose of antibiotics and undergo a second breath test.

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