Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, is an extremely common bacteria that infects the majority of the world's population. By many estimates, approximately 60 percent of adults worldwide carry H. pylori in their stomachs. Some people never experience any symptoms from the infection, but others can develop stomach ulcers, inflammation, and even stomach cancer.
It might be a bit unsettling or even frightening to realize that you might have been carrying a potentially harmful bacteria for much of your life. This could be even more true if you have recently developed peptic ulcer disease or are experiencing other uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
The good news, however, is that there are simple, effective H. pylori tests that can help you make informed decisions about your health. Once you have been screened for H. pylori, you and your doctor can diagnose, monitor, and treat your condition.
Read on for more information about H. pylori infection, signs and symptoms, and how to screen for, diagnose, and monitor the condition.
About H. Pylori
H. pylori is a common bacteria that lives in the digestive tract. It can infect your stomach lining for years or decades before you develop complications, which can make it very difficult to know whether you've been infected with H. pylori without proper testing. In fact, some people never experience any symptoms from their infection.
Other people, however, can develop gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), peptic ulcer disease, or even gastric cancer. This happens when the bacteria damage the lining of the stomach enough that stomach acid begins to cause ulcers, bleeding, and other problems.
Risk Factors for H. Pylori
There are many risk factors for H. pylori infection. Many people pick up the bacteria as children but don't show symptoms for years. Living conditions in childhood can increase your risk for contracting H. pylori.
Living in crowded conditions, lacking reliable access to clean water, living in a developing country, and/or sharing housing with someone who is infected can greatly increase your risk of contracting H. pylori as a child.
Causes of H. Pylori
You can get H. pylori in many ways, including through food, water, and eating utensils. You can also get H. pylori directly from someone who is infected via saliva, vomit, or other bodily fluids.
Doctors don't fully understand why some people who are infected with H. pylori never develop any complications, and why others contract ulcers or even stomach cancer. This means that a laboratory test can be especially helpful as you monitor your own symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of H. Pylori
Ulcers can cause extreme discomfort and pain and can damage the lining of your stomach. Some common symptoms of ulcers are:
- Gnawing or burning pain in your abdomen, especially between meals
- Pain that improves temporarily when you eat, drink milk, or take an antacid
- Nausea or vomiting
- Gas or frequent burping
- Unexpected weight loss
- Loss of appetite
When to See Your Doctor Immediately
Sometimes, ulcers can cause internal bleeding, which can be very dangerous. See your doctor right away if you experience:
- Bloody, dark red, or black stool
- Bloody or black vomit, or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- Severe, repeated stomach pain
- Trouble breathing or difficulty swallowing
The symptoms of stomach cancer are difficult to identify at first, and you may experience heartburn or another discomfort that could be mistaken for side effects of ulcers. You may also experience:
- Swelling and pain in the belly
- Consistent nausea and loss of appetite
- Trouble eating more than small amounts
- Unexpected weight loss
Since these symptoms can easily be mistaken for other gastrointestinal issues, it is very important to test and monitor for Helicobacter pylori infection and discuss your treatment with your doctor.
Lab Tests for H. Pylori
Fortunately, there are several effective H. pylori tests that can help you take charge of your health. The most common tests are stool tests and breath tests. Sometimes a doctor may order a scope test, but this is typically for more advanced symptoms or as a follow-up to determine the best treatment options.
A stool antigen test looks for foreign proteins associated with H. pylori in your stool. Accurate, straightforward stool tests can be ordered directly from the lab; there are just a few things you should know ahead of time.
Many common medications can occasionally interfere with the accuracy of these tests. You are not necessarily required to stop taking medication for your tests from Ulta Lab Tests. However, in the event of a negative result, your doctor may recommend that you stop taking antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for two weeks before a follow-up test.
The urea breath test is a simple, non-invasive, non-radioactive test with highly accurate results. You simply swallow a pill, liquid, or pudding that contains urea. You'll then breathe into a bag. H. pylori will change the substance into carbon dioxide, so if you have it, the test results will show higher levels of carbon dioxide than normal.
For the greatest accuracy, you should stop taking antibiotics, PPIs, and bismuth preparations (such as Pepto-Bismol) two weeks before the test.
Looking for even more information? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about these tests.
Which Test Is Better for Me?
All tests at Ulta Lab Tests are highly accurate, with patient-friendly processes. The stool test requires self-collection at home before dropping it off at a collection center. The urea breath test is done quickly at a patient service center but has more stringent requirements on medication use ahead of time.
How Quickly Will I Get My Results?
It can vary. However, your results are typically available online after just 1-2 business days.
Is My Information Secure?
Absolutely. Your results are private and secure, and your information is carefully safeguarded. No one else will see your results unless we are required to release them by law.
What if I Don't Have Insurance?
Insurance is not required for our tests. Our pricing is affordable to everyone.
What Are My Treatment Options for H. Pylori?
H. pylori is typically treated with a combination of two different antibiotics, which prevents the bacteria from becoming fully resistant to one of them. You may also return to taking PPIs and bismuth preparations. Your doctor will typically order a second test after four weeks to see if treatment was effective.
Schedule H. Pylori Tests
There are many benefits to taking advantage of available H. pylori tests through Ulta Lab Tests. Knowing your results can allow you to take control of your health, and to go into a doctor's appointment fully prepared and informed.
If you are suffering from ulcers or gastrointestinal distress, finding out whether you have H. pylori can help you treat the infection. This can prevent further damage to the stomach lining, which in addition to pain and discomfort could eventually lead to internal bleeding or even stomach cancer.
Take control of your health now by booking your Ulta Lab Test for H. pylori.