H. Pylori: A Common Bacteria That Injures the Stomach

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H. Pylori: Summary

Heliobacter pylori, otherwise known as H. pylori, are bacteria that cause gastritis or the inflammation of the inner lining of the stomach. It is also the most common cause of ulcers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two-thirds of the world’s population harbors the bacterium.  Infection rates much higher in developing countries than in developed nations. Luckily many people who harbor the bacteria never develop any symptoms. It is treated with a course of antibiotics, often several at once to prevent the bacteria from developing a resistance.

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H. Pylori: Causes

While the exact mode of transmission H. pylori is not known, it seems to be spread from person to person by saliva. It also has the potential to be spread by fecal matter and through vomit. About two-thirds of the world’s population harbors the bacterium. Most people who are infected become infected as children, and then develop the symptoms in later life.

Because the leading causes of transmission are contaminated food, water or fecal matter, the rate of infection is higher in poorer countries and in socio-economic groups characterized by crowded living conditions, poor sanitary conditions, and lack of clean water.

H. Pylori: Symptoms

The majority of people who are infected with H. pylori are symptom and disease free. Scientists aren’t sure why some people have more resistance than others; it could be hereditary, lifestyle or environmental factors, or a combination of all three.

For those who do have symptoms, gastritis and ulcers are the results of an H. pylori infection. These illnesses are characterized by:

  • ache or burning pain in your abdomen;
  • frequent burping;
  • bloating;
  • loss of appetite;
  • weight loss;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • if severe enough H. pylori can cause bleeding into the gastrointestinal tract. This causes bloody or black tarry stools or bloody or black vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds.

H. Pylori: Diagnostic Tests

There are a number of relatively straightforward and accurate tests that your doctor can do to determine whether you have H. pylori. Usually this testing is done after the diagnosis of gastritis or ulcer is made.

Diagnosis depends your doctor doing a complete physical exam and taking a patient history and asking specific questions. Testing for the H. pylori infection may be performed on blood, stool, or breath samples. Analysis of a blood sample may reveal evidence of an active or previous H. pylori infection in your body. During the stool test, a fecal sample is sent to the lab to look for foreign proteins (antigens) associated with H. pylori infection.

The breath test involves you swallowing a pill, liquid or pudding with radiolabeled urea molecules. If you have an H. pylori infection, the urea is broken down into its components ammonia and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is expelled when you exhale. If your exhalation contains radioactive carbondioxide it means you have helicobacter in your stomach which broke down the urea into its components.

In addition, biopsies can be tested for the presence of H. pylori. These are taken from the lining of the gastrointestinal tract during an endoscopy. This is where a thin tube containing a camera is used to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. Biopsies obtained during the endoscopy can be sent to a lab for analysis of the presence of H. pylori.

H. Pylori: Treatments

As H. pylori is a common bacteria, the danger is that it can develop a resistance to the antibiotics used to treat it. For this reason, doctors will often prescribe

two varieties of antibiotics at once, often clarithromycin and amoxicillin or Flagyl. This helps prevent the bacteria from developing a resistance to one particular antibiotic. Your doctor also will prescribe an acid suppression drug, to help your stomach lining heal.

H. Pylori: Prevention

Personal hygiene is the first step towards prevention. Frequent hand-washing when you have used the restroom and especially for anyone involved in food preparation is a must. H. Pylori contamination is more likely for anyone visiting a developing country. If you are going anywhere where food or water contamination could be a risk, make sure that you drink only bottled water, and follow other traveler’s guidelines.

H. Pylori: Conclusion

H. Pylori is a bacteria that can cause inflammation of the inner lining of the stomach. It is also the most common cause of ulcers worldwide. Often persons will live with the bacteria without any symptoms. When symptoms flare up, it can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and others. An H. pylori infection is usually acquired by ingesting contaminated food and water or through person-to-person contact. It is treated by a course of antibiotics. Often two are prescribe at once to prevent this common bacteria from developing a resistance

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