What Is Helicobacter Pylori Infection & How It Makes You Sick?
H. pylori are a type of bacteria that grow in digestive tract and they have the ability to attack the lining of the stomach and usually infect the stomach. The infections of H. Pylori are usually harmless but they are responsible for various ulcers in stomach and small intestine. The “H” in the name stands for Helicobacter, while Helico means spiral as these bacteria are spiral shaped. These bacteria are usually present in more than half of all the people living in the world. H. Pylori typically infect the stomach during childhood. In some people, these strains of bacteria can cause certain diseases such as Peptic Ulcer and Gastritis. That is the reason, when you develop symptoms of these diseases then the doctor probably tests you for H. Pylori infection as it can be treated with medications.
Let’s see how H. Pylori makes you sick and how it can be diagnosed and treated, also learn about its symptoms, risk factors and complications:
How H. Pylori makes a person sick?
For decades, the doctors thought that people get stomach ulcers due to eating spicy foods, taking stress, having smoking and other lifestyle habits. But, in 1982, the scientists had discovered H. pylori and they found that these germs are the most common cause of stomach ulcers.
When H. pylori enter your body, it attacks lining of your stomach which protects you from the stomach acid that the body uses for digestion. These bacteria have adapted themselves to live in harsh and acidic environment of the stomach and they can change stomach environment around them by reducing its acidity so that they can survive. Their spiral shape helps them to easily penetrate the stomach lining and the immune cells of the body can’t reach them and so they can damage the stomach lining. This damage allows the stomach acid to get through the lining which results in ulcers. This can also cause infections and bleeding when food moves through your digestive tract.
People can get H. pylori through water, food or utensils. It is more common in those countries that lack clean water or do not have good sewage systems. The bacteria can transfer through saliva or other fluids of body of the infected person. Most of the people get H. pylori in childhood but adults can also get it. These bacteria can live up in the body for years before the symptoms start appearing but most of the people who have it never get any ulcer. Doctors are still not sure why some people only get ulcers.
What are the symptoms of H. pylori infection?
Most of the people have no signs or symptoms of Helicobacter Pylori infection. But, when its symptoms occur, they include:
- A burning pain or ache in abdomen
- Abdominal pain that worsen when stomach is empty
- Loss of appetite
- Frequent burping
- Unintentional weight loss
If any of these signs and symptoms become persistent and start worry you then consult the doctor. If you experience persistent or severe abdominal pain, difficulty in swallowing, blood in stools or blood in vomit then seek medical attention immediately.
What are risk factors of developing H. pylori infection?
H. pylori is often develop in childhood and the factors that increases the risk of developing the infection are related to the living and environment conditions in your childhood, which include:
- Living in developing country
- Living in overcrowded housing conditions
- Living with a person who is affected with the infection
- Living in an area where there is no reliable supply of clean water
What complications are associated with H. pylori infection?
The complications associated with the infection include:
Ulcers: As H. pylori infects the protective lining of the stomach and duodenum (upper part of small intestine) so the stomach acid can create a sore, called as ulcer. Around 10 percent of affected people with infection develop an ulcer.
Inflammation of stomach lining: The infection can irritate the stomach lining and as a result causing stomach inflammation, a condition known as Gastritis.
Stomach cancer: According to studies, the affected people with H. pylori have high risk of developing certain types of stomach cancer.
How is H. pylori infection diagnosed?
If you do not have any symptom of ulcer then the doctor will not test you for H. pylori infection. But it you are experiencing the symptoms now or have them in the past then it is better to get tested. Moreover, there are some medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which can also cause stomach ulcer, so it is better to find the exact cause of the symptoms so that a proper treatment is recommended to you accordingly.
At first, the doctor asks you about your medical history, your symptoms and medicines that you are currently taking, if any. Then, the doctor performs a physical test which includes pressing your belly in order to check for any tenderness, swelling or pain. You may also have blood test and stool test which helps to find infection. You may have urea breath test, in which you need to drink a liquid having a substance, called urea. After that, you breathe into a bag which the doctor sends to lab for testing. H. pylori change the urea in your body into carbon dioxide and if you have the infection then the lab tests show that your breath has higher levels of carbon dioxide than normal.
In order to look more closely at the ulcer, the doctor may also perform some more tests which mainly include Upper GI Endoscopy. During this procedure, the doctor inserts a long, thin, flexible tube called as endoscope into your mouth and down into stomach and duodenum. The attached camera to endoscope sends images on a monitor where the doctor can view any abnormal areas and if needed, the doctor also uses special instrument to collect sample from these areas to look for presence of H. pylori.
How is H. pylori infection treated?
The infection of H. pylori is typically treated with two varieties of antibiotics at once and this helps prevent the bacteria from developing resistance to a specific one antibiotic. The doctor also prescribes acid-suppressing drug that helps your stomach lining to heal. These drugs may include:
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): These drugs stop the stomach acid from producing. Some examples of PPIs are omeprazole (Prilosec, others), lansoprazole (Prevacid, others) esomeprazole (Nexium, others) and pantoprazole (Protonix, others).
Histamine (H-2) blockers: They block histamine, a substance which triggers production of stomach acid. Examples include ranitidine (Zantac) and cimetidine (Tagamet).
Bismuth subsalicylate: This medicine is more commonly called as Pepto-Bismol and it works by coating ulcer affected areas and protecting them from stomach acid.
The doctor may also recommend you to undergo a test for H. pylori at least four weeks after the Helicobacter Pylori treatment. If the tests show that your treatment was unsuccessful then you may have another round of the treatment with involves different combination of antibiotics.
Consult GI Endoscopy Practice specialists for the treatment of H. pylori infection:
If you are experiencing any symptom of H. pylori infection then you can consult GI Endoscopy Practice physicians for a screening and testing for the infection, as this helps you to prevent from other serious complications. The board certified gastroenterologists performs different tests with advanced facilities and if you have an infection then they tailor a complete treatment plan for Helicobacter Pylori that gives you best results.