All about Urea Breath Test

What is urea breath test?

Urea breath test is a test to find out the presence of H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium) in the stomach. H. pylori are considered to be responsible for causation of ulcer in the stomach and duodenum (peptic ulcer), atrophy and inflammation of stomach. The urea breath test is used to demonstrate the elimination of H. pylori from stomach after treatment with appropriate antibiotics.

How urea breath test is done?

For urea breath test, patient is given a capsule to swallow which contain urea made from carbon isotope. If H. pylori are present in stomach they convert urea (made of carbon isotope) into ammonia and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is absorbed into the blood stream and travels to lungs, where it is exhaled (breathed) out. The samples of exhaled breath are collected and carbon isotopes counted with a special machine (carbon isotope counting machine) to determine presence of H. pylori in stomach. In nature the numbers of carbon isotopes are fixed and any increase in the number is indicative of presence of H. pylori.

How urea breath test result is interpreted?

If carbon isotopes are present in exhaled breath, it indicates positive result for H. pylori, if absent it indicates H. pylori are absent. After effective treatment with appropriate antibiotics, urea breath test become negative, which is used to find out cure after treatment.

What is the basis of the urea breath test?

The basis of the urea breath test is the ability of H. pylori to convert urea into ammonia and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide thus formed by H. pylori is than absorbed from stomach and eliminated via lungs (breath). By using carbon isotopes in urea (which is supplied in a capsule) and detecting them in exhaled breath, we are able to detect presence of H. pylori in stomach, because in absence of H. pylori carbon dioxide will not be formed and there will be no carbon isotopes in exhaled breath.

Is there any risk involved with urea breath test?

At present no adverse effect or risk is known with urea breath test and it is a safe test. The test is recommended for diagnosis of presence of H. pylori and after treatment to find out cured or not.

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