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Tests and Procedures

Helicobacter Pylori Culture

Does this test have other names?

H. pylori culture  

What is this test?

This test finds out if you are infected with Helicobacter pylori bacteria. This is a common bacterium, infecting more than 50 percent of the world's population. It's more common in developing nations and has been linked to poor hygiene in living conditions, especially for children. Infection is more common in children than adults. 

A culture test means that a tissue sample is placed in a special dish or tube containing nutrients normally found in the organism's environment. If H. pylori bacteria are present in the sample, they will reproduce and grow until they can be seen under a microscope. 

Why do I need this test?

You may have this test if your health care provider suspects you have an H. pylori infection. Symptoms of an H. pylori infection are mainly in the stomach and digestive tract. They include abdominal pain, ulcers, and diarrhea. In some children, the infection is linked with stunted growth. It also increases the risk for stomach cancer. 

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Although a culture is the most accurate testing method, your doctor may order a less invasive test.

One example is a breath test. For a breath test, you will drink liquid or take a capsule that contains a small amount of harmless radioactive material. Your doctor will then check levels of this material in your breath. If H. pylori bacteria are present in your stomach, the bacteria will break down this radioactive substance.

Other noninvasive tests for H. pylori look at samples of blood, saliva, or stool.

New minimally invasive tests are being developed. One is called the Entero-Test, or string test. For this test, you swallow a capsule attached to an absorbent nylon string. The capsule dissolves in your stomach, and the health care provider removes the string and collects a sample to culture. This method is not yet in common use.   

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.

The culture will either be positive or negative for H. pylori bacteria. A positive test means that you have the bacteria. A negative, or normal, test means that you do not have it. 

How is this test done?

This test is done by taking samples of stomach tissue. The tissue samples are collected during a process called endoscopy. A gastroenterologist does endoscopies in an outpatient setting.

Before an endoscopy, you may be given a sedative. Your throat will be sprayed with medicine so you won't feel the endoscope as much. Then you will swallow the endoscope, a thin, flexible tube about as thick as your little finger. When the endoscope is in your stomach, your doctor will use it to take samples, or biopsies, of stomach tissue. The entire procedure usually takes about 15 minutes. 

Does this test pose any risks?

Endoscopy is a fairly safe procedure, but it's likely you will feel some discomfort when swallowing the endoscope. This often eases after the endoscope passes through the throat. There is also a slight risk for a reaction to the sedatives, bleeding from the biopsy, or upper GI tearing from having an endoscopy.

What might affect my test results?

Your results may also be affected by medications you may be taking to treat ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux. 

How do I get ready for this test?

This test requires that you not take certain medications such as antibiotics or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) for one month before the procedure. You should not take drugs for gastroesophageal reflux disease, such as omeprazole (Prilosec) or esomeprazole (Nexium), for up to one week before the test. You should not take drugs such as ranitidine (Zantac) and famotidine (Pepcid) for 24 hours before the test. In addition, you should fast for six hours before the test.

Check with your doctor before stopping any medications.  Be sure your doctor knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use.

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