H. pylori infection is caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which results in ulcers, gastritis, and abdominal discomfort. This article discusses the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and ways to prevent it from spreading.
Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria that is commonly present in the stomach lining and results in stomach ulcers. This infection is contagious and it spreads from one person to another due to poor maintenance of personal hygiene. It spreads through saliva and fecal contamination of food and water. Two researchers from Australia discovered in 1982 that this infection causes peptic ulcer disease.
This infection usually affects children, and more than half of the population might have this infection without realizing it. This is because it does not result in any signs or symptoms. Symptoms develop only when the infection results in a peptic ulcer. H.pylori infection can be effectively treated with the help of antibiotics.
Many people do not have symptoms with H. pylori. If they do, symptoms include:
In severe cases, there is:
Lack of appetite.
Tarry stools (black stools).
Hypotension (low blood pressure).
Halitosis (bad breath).
If you are experiencing the following symptoms, it is best to go to the emergency room immediately:
Severe stomach pain.
Persistent bloody stools.
The stomach environment is extremely acidic. The bacteria being spiral-shaped easily drill into the linings of the digestive tract and harbor there, which makes the cells more prone to the acid content. Together, the stomach acid and bacteria irritate the stomach tissues further.
This bacteria is also believed to be passed through direct contact with saliva or vomit or consuming food or water contaminated with fecal matter.
People usually get infected during childhood, and the following factors seem to play a role:
People living with many family members or in a crowded condition.
People living in underdeveloped and developing countries, as they are crowded and the living conditions are unsanitary.
You are more likely to get infected if you live with someone who has H. pylori infection.
People who do not have a steady flow of clean water.
H. pylori infection of the stomach is detected by a combination of tests:
Physical examination of the abdomen for signs of bloating and pain.
Blood test - A blood test will show if you had an H. pylori infection previously or have an active one.
Breath test - This is more reliable in testing for an active infection. During this test, you have to swallow a pill or liquid containing carbon molecules. In people who have H. pylori infection, the bacteria break down the solution in your stomach and carbon is released. This carbon is then expelled on exhaling. A special device is then used to detect the presence of carbon molecules in your breath. Drugs such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), antibiotics, and bismuth subsalicylate can alter the results of this test.
Stool antigen test - The stool sample is tested for the presence of antigens (foreign proteins) that are associated with H. pylori infection. Similar to the breath test, certain medications can interfere with this test results also.
Upper endoscopy - During this test, the inserts a long and flexible tube with a camera (endoscope) through your mouth, throat, and esophagus into your stomach. It is done to detect any abnormalities in the digestive tract (ulcers) and to perform a biopsy. Biopsy samples that are collected and then tested for H. pylori infection. This test is rarely done to diagnose this infection as it is more invasive.
A combination of antibodies and antacids (drugs that suppress acid production) are used in the treatment of H. Pylori infection. The medicines used are:
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) - Omeprazole, Pantoprazole, Lansoprazole, etc., are used to stop acid production in the stomach.
Histamine (H-2) blockers - Drugs such as Cimetidine are used to block the production of histamine, which is believed to trigger acid production.
Bismuth subsalicylate or Pepto-Bismol - This medicine works by coating the ulcer or stomach lining and protects the stomach from acids.
Antibiotics - Amoxicillin, Clarithromycin, Metronidazole, and Tetracycline.
After four weeks of your treatment, you would have to test again for H. pylori infection. If the test is still positive, then you would have to start another round of treatment with a different combination of drugs.
It is still not evident if what you eat can cause or prevent this infection. But to recover faster:
Take your prescribed medicines at the right time.
Do not stop the antibiotics without finishing the course (7 or 14 days).
Avoid spicy food.
Do not consume alcohol.
The possible complications include:
Internal bleeding - peptic ulcers can lead to internal bleeding.
Iron deficiency anemia - severe internal bleeding can result in iron deficiency anemia.
Bowel obstruction - when the food gets blocked from leaving the stomach.
Bowel perforation - sometimes, ulcers can break through the stomach wall and cause perforation.
Stomach cancer - in extremely rare cases, this infection can cause some types of cancer.
The following preventive tips might help prevent H. Pylori infection:
Wash your hands before you eat and after using the toilet.
Since children are very susceptible, educate them to maintain good hygiene.
Eat only well-cooked food.
Do not eat in unhygienic conditions
Drink only clean, safe water.
For more information on Helicobacter pylori infection, talk to a medical or surgical gastroenterologist online through phone or video consultation.
The early signs and symptoms of H. pylori infection include heartburn or acidity, burning sensation in the stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, belching, and bloating.
Yes, most patients are cured of this infection with the help of antibiotics and other medicines that rescues the acid production in the stomach.
H. pylori bacteria is believed to be passed from one person to another through direct contact with vomit, fecal matter, or saliva. It can also spread by drinking or eating contaminated food and water.
If left untreated, H. pylori infection might lead to stomach ulcers, severe internal bleeding, anemia, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), and gastric cancer.
As some untreated cases of H. pylori can lead to gastric ulcers, internal bleeding, iron deficiency anemia, and cancer, it is a serious condition. Gastric ulcer is the second largest cause of deaths due to cancer in the world.
A new study linked anxiety to peptic ulcers, which can be a result of H. pylori infection. The symptoms that are seen with H. pylori infection cause a lot of stress and anxiety, and can also lead to depression and anxiety disorders.
Pain due to H. pylori infection is commonly experienced in the upper, center part of the abdomen. This abdominal pain can sometimes radiate to the back and cause back pain.
Not really. Loss of appetite is one of the symptoms of H. pylori infection, which makes people eat less and can cause unintentional weight loss.
The toxins produced by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria might damage the neurons and trigger a severe inflammatory response resulting in brain damage.
Last reviewed at:
16 Mar 2020 - 4 min read
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