Test for Stomach Ulcers
by Casey Kanen
Stomach ulcers, also known as peptic ulcers, are erosions in the stomach lining. They are caused by a bacterial infection and may be aggravated by external factors such as alcohol, tobacco and regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs. There are several tests available, invasive and non-invasive, used to determine the presence of a peptic ulcer.
The presence of a peptic ulcer can be determined by X-ray. The type of X-ray used to detect peptic ulcers is known as a barium upper GI X-ray (GI stands for gastrointestinal). In this process, the patient is asked to drink a chalky, metallic liquid that contains the chemical barium. Barium coats the stomach and makes peptic ulcers more visible to an X-ray. The X-ray then produces a digital image of the stomach onto a computer screen, where peptic ulcers appear as anomalies in the color or shape of the stomach.
A breath test is used to detect the presence of H. pylori, a bacterium associated with stomach inflammation. The patient is asked to drink a clear, tasteless liquid that contains radioactive carbon. Once ingested, H. pylori begins to break down the carbon. Shortly thereafter, the patient as asked to exhale into the breath-test plastic bag. Once the bag is sealed, a doctor can verify the presence of H. pylori by examining the patient's breath. If H. pylori is indeed present, the breath sample will contain traces of the radioactive carbon in the form of carbon dioxide.
Like a breath test, a blood test is used to detect the presence of H. pylori, this time in the blood stream. There are a few distinct downsides to a blood test, however. First, it is possible for H. pylori to be present in the blood stream for a period of time after inflammation occurs. Therefore, the presence of H. pylori in the blood stream does not necessarily affirm a current peptic ulcer. Second, drugs such as antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors may mask the presence of peptic ulcer bacteria in the blood stream. Therefore, a patient may have a peptic ulcer even though the blood test is unable to detect it. This is known as a false-negative.
An endoscopy utilizes a long, flexible tube (often with an attached camera) that can be inserted into bodily orifices. A patient is sedated and the tube is inserted into his mouth and down the esophagus into the stomach. This is a very accurate method that serves the additional purpose of allowing a doctor to remove samples of the stomach tissue for external examination. If a doctor chooses to do this, stomach tissue may be scanned for traces of peptic ulcers through the process of biopsy.
Because peptic ulcers are serious conditions that can cause chronic pain and indigestion, it is imperative that they are analyzed immediately. Consult a medical professional if you begin to suffer symptoms commonly associated with peptic ulcers, such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and bloody stool. A doctor will be able to determine which tests are appropriate for your condition.