Test Catalog

Test ID: UBT    
Helicobacter pylori Breath Test

Useful For Suggests clinical disorders or settings where the test may be helpful

Diagnostic testing for Helicobacter pylori infection in patients suspected to have active H pylori infection


Monitoring response to therapy


This test is not appropriate for asymptomatic people.

Testing Algorithm Delineates situations when tests are added to the initial order. This includes reflex and additional tests.

See Helicobacter pylori Diagnostic Algorithm in Special Instructions

Clinical Information Discusses physiology, pathophysiology, and general clinical aspects, as they relate to a laboratory test

The causal relationship between the urease-producing bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, and chronic active gastritis, duodenal ulcer, and nonulcer dyspepsia is well established. Conventional methods for the diagnosis of active H pylori infection include evaluation of biopsied gastric tissue by histopathology and culture. Less invasive assays include testing for the presence of H pylori by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in stool specimens and detection of H pylori urease production by the urea breath test (UBT). Serologic testing for the presence of IgM/IgG/IgA-class antibodies to H pylori is also performed; however, this is not recommended by either the American College of Gastroenterologists nor the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) as an accurate marker for active disease. These serologic markers can remain elevated despite resolution of active disease and may lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment.


Recommendations for use of the (13)C-UBT (Meretek) were recently provided by the Digestive Health Initiative, a joint committee assembled with representatives from the AGA, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD).(1) These recommendations include the following statements:

"When endoscopy is not clinically indicated, the primary diagnosis of H pylori infection can be made serologically or with the UBT. When endoscopy is clinically indicated, the primary diagnosis should be established by biopsy urease testing and/or histology. Available evidence suggests that confirmation of H pylori eradication is not mandatory in most situations because of costs associated with testing. However, for selected patients with complicated ulcer disease, low-grade gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma, and following resection of early gastric cancer, it is appropriate to confirm eradication. In other situations, the decision to confirm H pylori eradication should be made on a case-by-case basis."


This consensus group further specifies that there is no indication to test asymptomatic people and that testing for H pylori is only recommended if treatment is planned.


The (13)C-UBT) is a highly sensitive and specific noninvasive, nonradioactive test for diagnosing H pylori infection prior to antimicrobial treatment and for assessing whether the organism has been successfully eradicated following antimicrobial therapy.


In 2 recent large prospective studies, the (13)C-UBT was shown to be as, or more, sensitive and specific for diagnosing H pylori active infection than culture, stain, rapid urease testing of biopsy tissue, or serology.


When the test is used to assess eradication, it should be performed 4 to 6 weeks after completion of antimicrobial treatment.


See Helicobacter pylori Diagnostic Algorithm in Special Instructions.

Reference Values Describes reference intervals and additional information for interpretation of test results. May include intervals based on age and sex when appropriate. Intervals are Mayo-derived, unless otherwise designated. If an interpretive report is provided, the reference value field will state this.


Reference values apply to all ages.

Interpretation Provides information to assist in interpretation of the test results

The Helicobacter pylori urea breath test can detect very low levels of H pylori and, by assessing the entire gastric mucosa, avoids the risk of sampling errors inherent in biopsy-based methods. In the absence of gastric H pylori, the (13)C-urea does not produce (13)CO2 in the stomach.


A negative result does not rule out the possibility of H pylori infection. If clinical signs are suggestive of H pylori infection, retest with a new specimen or by using an alternative method.


A false-positive test may occur due to urease associated with other gastric spiral organisms observed in humans such as Helicobacter heilmannii.


A false-positive test could occur in patients who have achlorhydria.

Cautions Discusses conditions that may cause diagnostic confusion, including improper specimen collection and handling, inappropriate test selection, and interfering substances

Testing for Helicobacter pylori is only recommended if treatment is planned.


For patients with phenylketonuria (PKU), the Pranactin-Citric solution contains phenylalanine (75 mg/dose; for reference, 12 ounces of a typical diet cola contains approximately 80 mg).


The patient should not have taken antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or bismuth preparations for 2 weeks prior to the test. If PPIs are used within 2 weeks of BreathTek urea breath test (UBT) testing, false-negative test results may occur. Premature collection time can lead to a false-negative diagnosis for a patient with a marginally positive result.


If particulate matter is visible in the reconstituted Pranactin-Citric solution after thorough mixing, the solution should not be used.


The breath test should not be used until 4 weeks or more after the end of treatment for the eradication of H pylori as earlier posttreatment assessment may give false-negative results.


A correlation between the number of H pylori organisms in the stomach and the breath test result has not been established.


The safety of using the BreathTek UBT kit during pregnancy and lactation is not established.

Clinical Reference Recommendations for in-depth reading of a clinical nature

1. Talley NJ, Vakil NB, Moayyedi P: American Gastroenterological Association technical review on the evaluation of dyspepsia. Gastroenterology. 2005;129:1756-1780

2. Chey WD, Leontiadis GI, Howden CW, Moss SF: ACG Clinical Guideline: Treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection. Am J Gastroenterol. 2017 Feb;112(2):212-239. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2016.563

3. Talley NJ, Ford AC: Functional dyspepsia. N Engl J Med. 2015 Nov 5;373(19):1853-63. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra1501505

Special Instructions Library of PDFs including pertinent information and forms related to the test