Overview and Facts about H. Pylori Infection
H. pylori infection is caused by the common bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which grows inside the acidic environment of the stomach and small intestine, causing problems to your digestive health. When these spiral-shaped bacteria penetrate the protective mucous layer of your stomach, the exposed tissue may become damaged by harmful digestive acids.
Inflammation from H. pylori infection, compounded with exposure to irritating stomach acid, is the most common cause for the development of peptic ulcers, painful sores found inside your stomach lining and in the upper part of the small intestine.
Symptoms and Signs of H. Pylori Infection
Most people who are infected with H. pylori do not present any symptoms. When the infection leads to an ulcer, stomach pain is the most common symptom people experience. This pain is usually more intense when you have an empty stomach, and improves when you eat, drink, or take antacids.
Signs and symptoms associated with H. pylori infection include:
- Belching or acid reflux
- Blood in the stool
- Burning stomach pain
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
Causes and Risk Factors of H. Pylori Infection
While it is not completely known how the bacteria spreads, the H. pylori infection is thought to be passed between people from mouth-to-mouth contact or from feces transferred to the mouth, e.g., when a person does not thoroughly wash their hands after using the bathroom. The bacteria itself may be spread through contaminated water or food.
Risk factors for H. pylori infection include:
- Living in a developing country
- Living with others infected with H. pylori
- No access to hot water or antibacterial agents for cleaning
- Poor hygiene
Tests and Diagnosis of H. Pylori Infection
To diagnose an H. pylori infection, your doctor will ask for your medical history and whether any family members have been infected. If you are experiencing symptoms associated with an ulcer, the doctor will discuss any prescription or over-the-counter medications you may be taking, as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) contribute to the development of ulcers.
A blood, stool, or breath test is typically used to confirm the presence of the H.pylori in your body. To look for signs of infection or possible ulcers, an endoscopy may be recommended, in which a thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted into your digestive tract. A biopsy, or small tissue sample, may be taken during an endoscopy and examined under a microscope.
Treatment and Care for H. Pylori Infection
Treatment of H. pylori infections depends on whether the infection is causing digestive health problems, like peptic ulcers, or if you are at increased risk of stomach cancer. Antibiotics are used to kill H.pylori bacteria and are typically prescribed in combination with medications that reduce stomach acid, such as proton pump inhibitors. Stopping use of all NSAIDs is recommended to reduce the risk of ulcers. Avoiding spicy foods, smoking and alcohol may further help prevent existing ulcers from worsening.