Commonly known as H. pylori, Helicobacter pylori is a type of bacteria that enters your body and lives in your digestive system. Helicobacter pylori is arguably the most common, treatable cause of peptic or stomach ulcers. Epidemiologically, a H. pylori infection may be present in more than 50% of the global population, but it usually goes underdiagnosed.
For most people, a H. pylori infection will not cause stomach ulcers or any other notable symptoms. But for individuals who end up developing symptoms, there are medications that can effectively eliminate the germs and facilitate the healing of stomach ulcers.
Most people usually get a H. pylori infection during childhood. Research has proven that risk factors for H. pylori infection are closely linked to living conditions in childhood. These risk factors may include living in crowded areas, living with an infected individual, as well as living without a reliable water supply of safe and clean water.
Once a person is infected, the H. pylori bacteria will multiply in the mucus layer of the duodenum (small intestine) and stomach lining. The bacteria produces an enzyme known as urease that changes urea into ammonia. The function of ammonia is to shield the bacteria from stomach acid. As the bacteria continue to multiply, it eventually erodes into the stomach tissue, eventually resulting in gastric ulcers.
Research has shown that if you are suffering from a H. pylori infection, you have a greater chance of getting gastric cancer later in life. If there is a history of stomach cancer in your family, your doctor may recommend that you get tested for H. pylori, regardless of the presence or absence of stomach ulcers.
Besides screening and subsequent treatment, your doctor might also recommend certain lifestyle alterations, such as incorporating more fibre into your diet. Routine checkups with your doctor and adhering to their recommendations may help lower your risk of developing gastric cancer.
As previously mentioned, H. pylori is a type of bacteria that colonises and infects the digestive system, while thriving and living in your stomach. It can potentially damage the tissues in your stomach as well as the duodenum. This can result in inflammation in mild cases, and lead to gastric, indigestion, bloatedness, or change in bowel habits. In more severe cases, it can also result in very painful and worrisome sores known as peptic ulcers in your stomach.
Most people with either duodenitis or gastritis caused by H. pylori do not display any notable symptoms. But studies show that at least 10% of people infected with the bacteria develop more severe symptoms, such as stomach or duodenal ulcers and, in rare cases, stomach cancer.
Stomach ulcers can trigger a plethora of symptoms or no symptoms at all, with some of the most prevailing symptoms being:
Although it is uncommon, if left untreated, chronic gastric inflammation secondary to H. pylori can cause the stomach lining to undergo changes which may ultimately lead to gastric cancer.
Although it is uncommon for Helicobacter pylori to cause gastric cancer, it is regarded as a major treatable cause of stomach cancer. Interestingly, epidemiological studies reveal those who reside in regions where the H. pylori infection occurs at a relatively early age are at a higher risk of developing stomach cancer.
It is highly advisable that you schedule an appointment with a doctor if you experience any unusual stomach pains or discomforts, particularly if your symptoms are either recurrent or persistent.
There are a few diagnostic methods for a H. pylori infection. Your doctor will discuss with you during consultation on your symptoms, acquire a medical history, assess your personal risk, and perform a physical examination. They will then recommend the suitable tests for diagnosing a Helicobacter pylori infection.
Diagnostic or screening options for the Helicobacter pylori infection include:
If you tested positive for a Helicobacter pylori infection, your doctor will discuss the treatment options and related side effects with you. Your doctor will also weigh up the risks and benefits of treatment vs not treating and possible long term sequelae from the Helicobacter pylori infection.
Treatment options for Helicobacter pylori include:
Currently, there is no vaccine that offers the ultimate protection against a H. pylori infection.
However, there are lifestyle measures that you can practise to reduce your risk of Helicobacter infection or reinfection such as:
H. pylori can potentially cause a number of infections, such as:
Gastric and duodenal ulcers: nearly 10% of people infected with H. pylori will eventually develop a stomach sore or ulcer. This occurs because the bacteria damage the mucous coating that protects the lining of your small intestine and stomach. When this sensitive coating is damaged, strong stomach acid can easily pass through the lining, resulting in injury. Research shows that H. pylori infection accounts for at least 90% of intestinal ulcers and more than 80% of stomach ulcers.
Gastritis: inflammation of the stomach lining. Individuals with a H. pylori infection have a greater risk of developing this particular condition. If left untreated, gastritis can potentially result in stomach cancer.
Stomach cancer: H. pylori infection is a treatable risk factor of stomach cancer. Stomach cancer remains the second most prevalent cause of cancer-related fatalities globally.
An infection with H. pylori can potentially cause peptic ulcer disease, chronic gastritis, gastric cancer, as well as gastric MALT lymphoma.
Yes, mostly because of the increasing antibiotic resistant strains and reinfection of the bacteria. You are recommended to undergo a clearance test with urea-breath test following treatment eradication of Helicobacter pylori. Speak to your doctor to understand more on the clearance test.
Symptoms of gastritis vary among individuals. Some people may not exhibit any visible symptoms. If one is symptomatic, they can present with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, indigestion, loss of appetite, vomiting blood or coffee ground-like material, hiccups, black-tarry stools, recurrent upset stomach, burning sensation in the stomach, as well as bloating.
H. pylori infections can easily and effectively be treated using antibiotics. However, research shows that some H. pylori infections are becoming resistant to certain types of antibiotics. This implies that the bacteria can survive antibiotic treatment, and victims may require another type of medication to completely eradicate the bacteria.
Thankfully, H. pylori infections are still a treatable medical condition with appropriate antibiotic medication regimens. Early screening, prompt diagnosis, and right treatment are keys to preventing potential digestive system complications such as gastritis, intestinal ulcers, and cancer.