The problem with achieving a diagnosis of H pylori is due, at least initially, to the bacteria producing symptoms which are indicative of many other illnesses. This is why often it is not until the symptoms of ulcers appear that patients are not even tested for the condition. There are though several tests available although some are a lot less invasive than others!
The blood test for H pylori is commonly used by clinicians. Two major problems exist with it however. One is that if you have recently undergone a course of antibiotics these will skew test results, so it is important to be aware of this fact just in case your clinician is not. Secondly, a blood test cannot tell if your H pylori has been treated. This means that other methods have to be employed if you or your clinician want to confirm that the treatment has been successful. Often however this is not necessary particularly when symptoms go into remission shortly after treatment.
There is a breath test available for H pylori and this measures the amount of urea produced by the bacteria indicates you have an infestation. Luckily this test can also establish if the bacteria have been cleared after treatment and is often used by clinicians even if you had a blood test to confirm the original diagnosis.
Stool antigen tests are very often a preferred choice for both diagnosing H pylori and confirming that the treatment has been successful. Although some people would be embarrassed about providing a stool sample, this particular test has a high rate of accuracy.
Yet all of these tests have good and bad points. Even though the breath test might seem simple enough and certainly not invasive, there is a procedure to go through for around 2 weeks prior to the test being taken and some may find this more than a little inconvenient. Also, although it is not something that patients are commonly aware of, no matter which test is used for whatever condition, precious few have 100% accuracy rates and the situation is no different with the tests for H pylori. Depending on which test you have done, antibiotics, antacids, proton pump inhibitors, antimicrobials and bismuth treatments taken within a week or more of a test being performed may affect the test results so they return a false reading. It may be that despite all tests returning negative results the patient still presents with symptoms indicative of an infestation. In which case it might be necessary to establish the problem by way of an endoscopy biopsy.
This is the least frequently used test, quite possibly because it is so expensive and invasive. Often this is used because a clinician is attempting to confirm if a patient has ulcers. The endoscopy itself, which is a visual test, cannot establish if a patient has H pylori but what usually happens is that a biopsy is taken at the same time and the tissues are examined at the laboratory to confirm a diagnosis. Because H pylori is so often now seen to be the cause of most ulcers, then it would actually be unusual for a biopsy not to be performed while the endoscopy procedure is underway.
Of course the tests are only initiated on the strength of a patient’s symptoms so make sure when you attend a consultation that you have made detailed notes of all your issues and pay particular attention to any digestive or bowel problems. Something as common as indigestion may not seem important to you but it could be crucial in pointing your clinician in the right direction for an accurate diagnosis.
Remember that there are many reasons a patient may produce gastric symptoms and not all of them are due to H pylori. Also remember that even if you test positive for H pylori the chances of you developing an ulcer are pretty low and the chances for stomach cancer are even lower.