What is helicobacter pylori infection?
Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) is a type of bacteria that can infect your stomach and digestive tract. Infection is common, and more than two-thirds of the world’s population is infected, although the rate of infection is declining as more people get access to clean water and sanitation.
Most people with H. pylori become infected as a child and most don’t know they are infected as it can live harmlessly in your body, without causing any symptoms.
In other people, H. pylori slowly attacks the lining of the stomach and is a common cause of dyspepsia (indigestion).
Continued damage can lead to the development of gastric ulcers, which are sores or erosions in the lining of your stomach. For some people, an infection can lead to stomach cancer.
How do you get infected with H. pylori?
H. pylori is more common in countries or areas that lack clean water or are without a good sewerage system. You can easily pick up the bacteria from food, water, utensils, or through contact with the saliva or other body fluids of infected people.
There is a greater risk of spreading the infection in overcrowded living areas.
What are the symptoms of H. pylori?
The symptoms of H. pylori reflect those of dyspepsia (indigestion) or an ulcer and may include:
- A dull or burning pain in your stomach that is worse if you haven't eaten
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Low appetite
- Frequent burping
- Acid burps
- Weight loss.
How is H. pylori diagnosed?
Doctors do not usually go looking for H. pylori unless you develop ongoing or frequent dyspepsia (indigestion) or gastric ulcers.
Your doctor will ask you about your medical history, any symptoms, and what medications you take. They will perform a physical examination where they will press on your stomach to feel for any swelling, tenderness, or pain.
They may also conduct:
- Blood or stool tests to look for evidence of infection or other anomalies (such as anemia or the presence of blood in the stool)
- An urea breath test. This detects H. pylori in the stomach
- An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy to look into your stomach and small intestine and to collect a sample which can be tested for the presence of bacteria
- An X-ray
- A computed tomography (CT) scan.
How is H.pylori infection treated?
If H. pylori is found, it can be treated using eradication therapy, which usually consists of two antibiotics and another type of medicine called proton pump inhibitor (PPI).
The antibiotics kill H.pylori and the PPI reduces the production of acid in the stomach, allowing the ulcer to heal. Treatment is usually for 7 days and is effective in approximately 90% of people. The chances of reinfection are low because most H. pylori infections occur in childhood.