The Science Behind the H. Pylori Breath Test: How It Works

To confirm a diagnosis of H. pylori infection, your gastroenterologist may ask you to undergo a breath test. Simple and painless, the breath test is highly accurate.
Unio Health Gastroenterology, Arcadia, CA

Heliobacter pylori infection in the gastrointestinal tract affects numerous children and adults across the United States. Most remain asymptomatic, but others develop distressing GI symptoms. To confirm a diagnosis of H. pylori infection, your gastroenterologist may ask you to undergo a breath test. Simple and painless, the breath test is highly accurate. Let’s learn about it here.

The Symptoms of H. pylori Infection

People infected with H. pylori can have mild to no symptoms whatsoever. However, those who do get sick from this infection often develop symptoms of peptic (stomach) ulcers or gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining.

These gastrointestinal symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Bloating and burping

When symptoms continue in spite of treatment with over-the-counter drugs like Pepto Bismol or other medications, your gastrointestinal specialist may want to investigate the reasons for your stomach upset and discomfort.

Testing For H. pylori Infection

A complete physical examination, including your medical history, symptoms and medications, is the best way to determine what’s happening in your gastrointestinal tract. It’s important to tell your doctor how long you have been experiencing your symptoms, where and how often they occur, how severe they are and what may relieve or worsen them. Some people track their symptoms in a journal or on their phone.

That said, your gastroenterologist likely will give you a simple H. pylori breath test. Done in the office, this common and very accurate medical test reveals the presence of that H. pylori in your gut. For best accuracy, you will be asked to stop all antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), H2 blockers and Pepto Bismol two weeks prior to the breath test.

How does a breath test tell your physician about a GI infection? Here’s how it works.

  1. In the inSite office, you will breathe into a collection container or bag. Then, you consume a pill, pudding or liquid containing measured amounts of medically marked carbon.
  2. Your gastrointestinal tract begins to process the oral carbon and in doing so, gives off carbon dioxide through your respiratory system.
  3. This carbon dioxide can be accurately collected and measured. You will breathe into a collection container or bag which is then sealed and then analyzed in the lab.
  4. An elevated level of CO2 in your breath sample indicates Heliobacter pylori infection.

Treating H. pylori Infection

Most people need antibiotics to clear the H. pylori bacteria and take two different kinds of antibiotics together. Then, you will take another breath test to ensure all infection is gone.

Additionally, your GI specialist will address the excess stomach acid and ulcerations which resulted from the infection with medication. These medications include Pepto Bismol, or something similar, as well as H2 (histamine) blockers or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to decrease the amount and action of stomach acid produced.

H. pylori Breath Test Near Me in California

At Genensis Healthcare Partners, our gastroenterologists test for and treat H. pylori infection. So, if you are having symptoms, reach out to the inSite office nearest you and book a consultation with one of our experienced healthcare providers. If need be, the doctor will use a breath test to confirm the diagnosis. Or, you may request your visit online. We look forward to seeing you soon!