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Urea Breath Tests for the Detection of Helicobacter pylori Infection

Authors


Franco Bazzoli , M.D. , Associate Professor of Medicine, Dipartimento di Medicina Interna e Gastroenterologia, Università di Bologna, Policlinico S. Orsola, Via Massarenti, 9, 40138 Bologna, Italy. Email address: bazzoli@alma.unibo.it.

Abstract

Background.

Helicobacter pylori is recognized as an important human pathogen. The urea breath test, using either 13C or 14C, provides a noninvasive diagnostic method for the detection of active H. pylori infection.

Methods.

We review the data regarding the utility of the urea breath test in the diagnosis and follow-up of patients with suspected H. pylori infection.

Results.

Following its ingestion, labeled urea is hydrolyzed by H. pylori urease, producing ammonia and labeled CO2, which is absorbed and can be detected in expired breath. The urea breath test provides a semiquantitative assessment of the load of H. pylori and overcomes the problem of the sampling error due to the patchy distribution of the infection. 13C-urea breath test has an advantage over the 14C version, because the 13C isotope is a nonradioactive natural isotope; therefore, a user’s license is unnecessary, making simple the handling and mailing of samples. The 13C-urea breath test is preferred in children and expectant mothers.

Conclusion.

The high sensitivity, and specificity of the 13C-urea breath test are such that it can be considered a clinical gold standard against which other diagnostic methods can be validated. This test can be used as the sole method for evaluating the effectiveness of treatment of H. pylori infection.

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