Reasons, Procedure and Preparation For Urea Breath Test

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Urea Breath Testing

Heliobacter pylori or H. pylori is a type of genus Heliobacter, this bacterium produces urease and is commonly associated with a number of gastro-duodenal diseases, such as gastritis, gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcers, and peptic ulcers. It is a spiral-shaped, gram-negative bacterium that commonly causes peptic ulcers. The Heliobacter pylori colonizes the stomach and this indirectly leads to gastric inflammation, which if left untreated will lead to chronic gastritis and ulceration.

Reason Why It is Conducted

The urea breath test or UBT helps diagnose the presence of the Helicobacter pylori in the stomach. Urea breath tests are also conducted to identify infections caused by the H. pylori. Another use for this test is to detect whether the H. pylori has been eliminated from the system after treatment. Many healthcare providers are slowly beginning to realize the value of urea breath testing to detect and treat the infections caused by H. pylori. Two main advantages of urea breath testing are as follows: Firstly, it avoids unnecessary treatments that could make the bacteria resistant to antibiotics; and secondly it is the best test to confirm that the treatment was successful.


The patient is asked to collect samples of their breath before the test starts. This sample is collected by either blowing into a balloon or by blowing bubbles into a bottle containing liquid. The patient is then given a dose of urea labeled with either radioactive carbon 14 or non-radioactive carbon 13. Samples are then collected after administering the urea. Breath test urea is based on the H. pylori bacteria's ability to break down urea into carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide gets absorbed by the stomach's lining and passes into the blood. From the blood it passes into the lungs and is eliminated in the breath. Thus, breath samples collected before and after administering urea are compared, to determine the presence of the bacteria. This difference is compared to the cut-off value to check for infection. Samples are collected at different times and the test itself takes about 1.5 hours to complete.


Two weeks before the test, the patient should stop taking any antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, or bismuth. If the patient is on H2 blocker therapy this can be continued, but ensure that your doctor is aware of all your medications and dosage. The patient should also fast at least one hour before samples are collected.