h. pylori

H. pylori Infection: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

April 1, 2019

A lot of people still think that chronic gastritis or stomach ulcers are caused by a poor diet or by stress. However, it is actually caused by Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori. What exactly are H. pylori? Plus, what are the symptoms, how is it diagnosed and treated, and what can you do to prevent being infected by it? Here’s all you need to know.

What Is H. Pylori?

Corkscrew in shape, H. pylori was recognized as the prime cause of gastritis and stomach ulcer in the year 1982. It is a bacterium that commonly thrives and grows in the digestive system, and it usually attacks the lining of the stomach. Moreover, the bacteria have managed to adapt to living in the acidic setting of the stomach.

As it can penetrate the lining of the stomach, the mucus of the lining protects it. This makes it difficult for the immune cells of the body to reach the bacteria. It interferes with the body’s immune response which leads to problems in the stomach and small intestine. An infection with this bacterium is often linked to a heightened risk of getting stomach cancer.

What Causes It?

The exact cause of an H. pylori infection is still unknown. It is believed that the spread of the bacteria is associated with contaminated food or water. Moreover, it can also be transferred from mouth to mouth or feces to mouth. This happens when an individual does not wash hands meticulously after relieving him or herself.

Symptoms

A lot of people infected with this bacterium do not show symptoms of an infection. For others, the usual symptoms include:

  • Bloating of the Stomach
  • Burping
  • Fever
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Weight Loss That Is Unexplained

In some case, the infection could lead to an ulcer. It is usually associated with pain in the abdomen that is felt a few hours after a meal or at night when the stomach is empty. The pain is characterized as gnawing. Other symptoms of an ulcer are the following:

  • Burping or Bloating
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Unexplained Weight Loss

Ulcers that are left untreated or ignored may lead to serious consequences. If you notice the following symptoms, then it is best to seek immediate attention from medical personnel.

  • Bloody, Red-, or Dark-Colored Stool
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Feeling Faint or Tired
  • Pale Colored Skin
  • Severe Pain in Stomach
  • Vomit That Contains Blood

As mentioned, this bacterium is also linked to stomach cancer. One such symptom is heartburn. Other symptoms commonly associated with it include:

  • Fullness Even After Eating a Tiny Portion
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Unexplained Weight Loss

Diagnosis

If you manifest any of the aforementioned symptoms, then it is best to seek immediate attention from your primary physician. Your doctor will then perform the following tests to diagnose if it is indeed an H. pylori infection.

  • Blood Test

A blood test is done to check for antibodies that fight against the bacteria. A small quantity of blood is taken from either the hand or arm which will then be sent for analysis at a laboratory.

  • Breath Test

For this test, you’ll be required to swallow a solution that contains urea. Urea is usually broken down by an enzyme released by H. pylori bacteria. Once broken down, it releases carbon dioxide. A device will then detect this to confirm the presence of the bacteria.

  • Endoscopy

For this procedure, the physician will insert a thin device known as an endoscope into the mouth. It passes by the stomach and the duodenum. The camera attached to the device sends images to a monitor which your doctor can view. Apart from a clear visual image of the area, your doctor may also take samples for further testing.

  • Physical Exam

Signs of pain, tenderness, or bloating are checked by your primary physician.

  • Stool Test

Apart from a blood test, a stool test is done to check for the presence of the bacteria. You’ll be required to submit a stool sample which will be analyzed in the lab.

Treatment

For individuals with stomach ulcers caused by the bacteria, a detailed treatment plan is done. This treatment is targeted to kill the bacteria, heal the lining of the stomach, and prevent the sores from reoccurring. For this treatment alone, it takes one to two weeks. Some of the drugs involved in this treatment are the following:

  • Antibiotics
  • Bismuth Subsalicylate
  • Drugs that block histamine
  • Drugs that reduce the acid produced in the stomach

Two weeks after the treatment, you will be advised to do another stool and breath test. This is to ensure that the bacteria have been successfully eradicated from your system.

Other treatments involve two antibiotics paired with a drug that lowers the acid levels in the stomach. Such treatment is termed as as triple therapy. Drugs involved in this treatment are the following:

  • Amoxicillin
  • Clarithromycin
  • Metronidazole
  • Proton-Pump Inhibitors

Take note that the treatment varies on one’s past medical history as well as allergies. Your physician may prescribe medications not mentioned on the list.

Related Factors

There has still been no known cause for the spread of H. pylori infection. However, some factors that increase one’s risk for acquiring the bacteria include the following.

  • Crowded Areas

Living in a home or area that is overpopulated puts you at risk for infection. Moreover, if the person you live with has an existing H. pylori infection, then you are more likely to get infected or are already infected.

  • Unsanitary Area

In countries where the living condition is unsanitary, there is a heightened risk of getting an infection with this bacterium. Moreover, individuals are unlikely to have a supply of clean and uncontaminated water.

Prevention

Keep this bacterium at bay, along with other germs, by following these steps.

  • Always rinse your hands after using the bathroom.
  • Always wash your hands prior to preparing or eating food.
  • Avoid water or food from suspicious sources.
  • Avoid food that hasn’t been cooked properly

Prevention is always better than cure. An H. pylori infection can be prevented as long as you practice proper hygiene. Plus, always make sure the food or drinks you consume come from clean sources.