Helicobacter pylori, also known as H pylori, is a bacterium that usually infects the stomach lining. It is a very frequent infection that probably affects more than half the world’s population.
The vast majority of people infected by Helicobacter pylori do not realize that they have the infection as they do not have any symptoms. Most patients with H pylori will never develop any complications from it; however, H pylori can cause inflammation in the stomach (Gastritis), gastric and duodenal ulcers and in rare cases gastric cancer.
The bacteria cause inflammation in the walls of the stomach (gastritis) and the duodenum (duodenitis). This makes the lining of the stomach and the duodenum vulnerable to the digestive juices such as stomach acid.
Helicobacter pylori is transmitted via fecal–oral transmission. It is contracted by consuming contaminated food or water.
Most patients with Helicobacter pylori do not have any symptoms, but when symptoms occur they can include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort.
- Fullness after eating a small amount of food.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Decreased appetite.
- Living in a developing country.
- Living without a reliable supply of clean water.
- Living with someone who has the infection.
- Living in crowded conditions.
- Gastric and duodenal ulcers.
- Gastritis and duodenitis.
- Gastric cancer
Diagnostic testing is recommended if you have symptoms suggestive of Helicobacter pylori infection, if you have an ulcer or if you have a past history of ulcers. If you do not have symptoms your doctor may recommend testing if you have a past history of ulcers or if you have a family history of stomach cancer.
The available tests for h pylori are:
- Blood test: this is an antibody test that remains positive even if the infection is cleared.
- Stool test: this test detects certain bacterial proteins and confirms an active infection.
- Urea breath test: the patient drinks a solution containing a substance broken down by the bacteria. The patient’s breath is then analyzed to detect the breakdown products.
- Endoscopy: the doctor will perform an upper endoscopy and take biopsies from the stomach. The tissue will then be tested to check for the presence of the bacteria.
Helicobacter pylori is usually treated with the combination of an acid blocking medication and at least two different antibiotics. You will need to be tested again after the treatment is done to confirm eradication of the infection.