Diagnosis of Helicobacter pylori using the rapid urease test

Takahiro Uotani, David Y. Graham


Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a major human pathogen which causes progressive gastroduodenal damage. Guidelines recommend that, unless there are compelling reasons to delay, treatment is indicated for all patients in whom the infection is diagnosed. The rapid urease test (RUT) is a popular diagnostic test in that it is a rapid, cheap and simple test that detects the presence of urease in or on the gastric mucosa. The sensitivity and specificity are generally high and many versions have been approved for use in humans. Best results are obtained if biopsies are obtained from both the antrum and corpus. The tissue sample embedded in the RUT gel can also be utilized for other tests such as for molecular based tests of microbial susceptibility or for host factors. False-positive results are rare if the RUT contains an antibacterial agent to prevent growth of urease-containing contaminants and the tests are discarded at 24 hours. The use of antimicrobial drugs and proton pump inhibitors as well as the presence of intestinal metaplasia may result in false-negative results. A negative test should not be used as the criteria for cure or in cases where accuracy is important for patient management such as in upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Interpretation of the test should take into account the pretest probability and the prevalence of H. pylori in the population. The test can also be used to provide an informal assessment of the accuracy of the histopathology result and discrepancies should prompt a review of the histopathology and discussions with the pathologist.