What is Helicobacter pylori?
Helicobacter pylori , also known as H. pylori for short , is a common type of bacteria that grows in the digestive tract and tends to attack the lining of the stomach. It affects the stomachs of more than half of the adult population. H. pylori infections are often harmless, but are also responsible for many of the ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.
H. pylori usually infects your stomach as a child. Infections associated with this type of bacteria typically do not cause symptoms, but can lead to illness in some people, including peptic ulcers and an inflammatory condition in the stomach known as gastritis.
H. pylori is adapted to live in the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach. These bacteria can change the environment around them and reduce the acid level so they can survive.
The spiral shape of H. pylori allows them to penetrate your stomach lining, where they are protected by mucus and where your body’s immune cells cannot reach them. Bacteria can interfere with your immune response, ensuring that they are not destroyed themselves, which can lead to stomach problems.
How is Helicobacter pylori transmitted?
How H. pylori infections are transmitted is still unknown. Bacteria have lived with humans for thousands of years. Infections are thought to spread from one person’s mouth to another.
Sometimes it is transmitted during the toilet. This can occur when a person does not wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet. H. pylori can also be spread through contact with contaminated water or food.
It is believed that bacteria cause stomach problems when they penetrate the mucous membrane of the stomach and produce substances that neutralize stomach acids. This makes stomach cells more vulnerable to harsh acids.
Stomach acid and H. pylori together irritate the stomach lining and can cause ulcers in the stomach or duodenum, which is the first part of your small intestine.
Who is at risk?
Children are more likely to develop helicobacter pylori infection. Their risk is thought to be high due to lack of hygiene.
Also, your risk of infection depends in part on your environment and living conditions. Your risk is higher if:
- Living in a newly developing country
- Sharing residences with others infected with H. pylori
- living in a crowded house
- lack of hygiene
It is now understood that peptic ulcers are caused by such bacteria rather than stress or eating acid-rich foods.
According to the Mayo Clinic, about 10 percent of people infected with H. pylori develop peptic ulcers. ( Source ) Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) also increases your risk of getting peptic ulcers.
What are the symptoms of Helicobacter pylori?
Most patients with H. pylori do not have any symptoms. When the infection has led to an ulcer , abdominal pain may occur as a symptom, especially at night or when your stomach is empty for several hours after meals .
The pain is often described as a rodent pain and can come and go. If you have this type of pain or a strong pain that does not go away, you should visit your doctor.
A number of other symptoms associated with Helicobacter pylori infection may also include:
- excessive burping
- feeling bloated
- loss of appetite or anorexia
- unexplained weight loss
When should you see a doctor?
You should see a doctor immediately if you experience the following:
- difficulty swallowing
- blood in stool
However, these are common symptoms that other conditions can cause. Some symptoms of H. pylori infection are also experienced by healthy people.
If any of these symptoms persist or you are worried about them, it is always best to see your doctor. If you notice blood or a black color in your stool or vomit, you should consult your doctor.
How is Helicobacter pylori diagnosed?
First, your doctor will ask about your medical history and family history. Be sure to tell your doctor about any medications you take, including any vitamins or supplements. If you are experiencing peptic ulcer symptoms, your doctor will likely also ask you about your use of NSAIDs such as ibuprofen .
Your doctor may also do many tests and procedures to confirm their diagnosis, such as:
- Physical exam: During the physical exam, your doctor will examine your stomach to check for signs of bloating, tenderness, or pain. He will also listen to the sounds in his stomach.
- Blood test: You may need to provide blood samples to be used to look for antibodies to Helicobacter pylori. For the blood test, a healthcare professional will draw a small amount of blood from your arm or hand. The blood is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
- Stool testing: A stool sample may be needed to check for signs of H. pylori in your stool. Your doctor will give you a container to store a sample of your stool. When you return the container again, they send the sample to a lab for analysis. This is also called the helicobacrer pylori antigen test .
- Breath test: If you are going to have a breath test, you swallow a preparation containing urea. H. pylori is detected by analyzing your body’s response to the ingested preparation.
- Endoscopy: You will be an endoscopy, your doctor inserts a long and thin instrument called an endoscope into your mouth, stomach, and from there into the duodenum. A connected camera projects an image onto the monitor for your doctor to watch. Any abnormal area will be examined. If necessary, special instruments used with the endoscope allow your doctor to take samples from these areas.
How is Helicobacter pylori treated?
If you have an H. pylori infection that is not causing any problems and there is no increased risk of stomach cancer , treatment may not provide any benefit. Gastric cancer is associated with H. pylori infection along with duodenal and gastric ulcers.
Your doctor may want you to seek treatment if you have a close relative with stomach cancer or a problem such as stomach or duodenal ulcers. Treatment can heal the ulcer and reduce your risk of developing stomach cancer.
Normally, you would need to take a combination of two different types of antibiotics along with another medicine that reduces stomach acid. Lowering stomach acid helps antibiotics treat it more effectively.
Treatment may vary depending on your medical history and whether you are allergic to any of these drugs. After treatment h. You will have a follow-up test for pylori.
How should those with Helicobacter pylori be fed?
There is no evidence that food and diet prevent or cause peptic ulcer disease in people infected with Helicobacter pylori. However, spicy foods, alcohol, and smoking can worsen a peptic ulcer and prevent it from healing properly.
What are the harms of Helicobacter pylori?
Harms associated with H. pylori infection can include:
- Ulcer: H. pylori can damage the protective lining of your stomach and small intestine. This can allow stomach acid to form an open sore (ulcer). About 10% of H. pylori patients develop ulcers.
- Inflammation of the stomach lining: The H. pylori infection can irritate your stomach, causing inflammation (gastritis).
- Stomach cancer: H. pylori infection is a strong risk factor for some types of stomach cancer.