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How Do Doctors Test for Ulcers?

How Do Doctors Test for Ulcers?

There are several different tests that doctors may administer in order to determine if you have a peptic ulcer including a blood test, barium swallow, or endoscopic exam.

Barium Swallow

One test that a doctor may administer is a barium swallow, sometimes called an upper gastrointestinal series.  For this test, the doctor will ask you to swallow a “barium milkshake” which contains a liquid that will be visible on an X-ray.  The X-rays are usually taken lying down so that the liquid is evenly distributed in your gastro-intestinal tract.  The X-rays allow the doctor to locate the ulcer and identify what type and how severe it is.  Before a barium swallow, patients are usually to prepare by eating only bland foods and beverages for several days.

Endoscopic Exam

Another test a doctor may administer is an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), also referred to as an upper endoscopy, or gastroscopy.This test involves inserting a tube with a small camera down the throat so that the doctor can view the stomach and esophagus, check for bleeding, and test for a bacterial infection.  For this test, patients are given anesthesia and do not feel or remember the procedure.  You must abstain from eating anything six to twelve hours before the test.  Following the test, you will not be able to eat anything until your gag reflex returns. The test lasts about five to twenty minutes.

Testing for H. Pylori Infections

When checking for ulcers, doctors may also to test for H. pylori bacteria, the cause of ninety-percent of all cases of gastritis and ulcers. [!]  Several tests can detect an H. pylori infection.

Blood Test: A blood test requires that blood is drawn and then analyzed for H. pylori antibodies, which will be present if the body is attempting to fight off the infection.

Urea Breath Test: Urea is a compound that is the waste product created when the body metabolizes protein. H. pylori convert urea to carbon dioxide and ammonia producing an enzyme called urease. With this test a tablet, pudding, or liquid containing urea is ingested.  The patient then exhales breath into a bag, which will then be analyzed for the presence of urease.

Stool Antigen Test: H. pylori antigens are also present in a patient’s stool.  In this test, the patient provides a stool sample for analysis.



“Understanding Ulcers — Treatment.” WebMD – Better information. Better health.. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012.

Mayo Clinic
Peptic Ulcer Tests and Diagnosis

National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education
Ulcers: The Culprit is H. Pylori!

Medline Plus-US National Library of Medicine
Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House US Department of Health and Human Services
H. pylori and Peptic Ulcers


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