Responsible for many gastric diseases
H. pylori are a common type of bacteria that grows in the digestive tract and has a tendency to attack the stomach lining. H. pylori infections are usually harmless, but they’re responsible for the majority of ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.
H. pylori often infect your stomach during childhood. While infections with this strain of bacteria typically don’t cause symptoms, they can lead to diseases in some people, including peptic ulcers, and an inflammatory condition inside your stomach known as gastritis. The World Health Organization classified H. pylori as a carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent, in humans. More than 95% of all duodenal ulcers and about 75% of gastric ulcers are Hp-positive.
Helicobacter pylori are spiral-shaped bacteria that can attach to the lining of the stomach or small intestine and thrive and multiply in that environment. H. pylori infection occurs when the bacteria release toxins. Helicobacter pylori infection is the leading cause of stomach ulcers (e.g., peptic ulcers) and gastritis (inflammation in the stomach). Treatment usually is quite effective. Ulcers often heal completely, resulting in a lower risk for recurrence. Left untreated, H. pylori infection can lead to stomach cancer. The exact way H. pylori infects someone is still unknown. H. pylori bacteria may be passed from person to person through direct contact with saliva, vomit or fecal matter. H. pylori may also be spread through contaminated food or water.
Signs and symptoms of H. pylori may include severe or persistent abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting that may include vomiting blood, bloody or black tarry stools, fatigue, anemia, decreased appetite and diarrhea. Although H. pylori are widely spread among people in the Middle East, their early treatment and diagnosis contribute to the reduction of complications that may result from gastrointestinal diseases or non-ulcer dyspepsia. In some extreme and very rare cases, they may cause stomach cancer.
Is it contagious?
H. pylori are commonly transmitted person-to-person by saliva. The bacteria can also be spread by fecal contamination of food or water. In developing countries, a combination of untreated water, crowded conditions, and poor hygiene contributes to higher H. pylori prevalence. Most people become infected as children, and parents and siblings seem to play a primary role in transmission. H. pylori can be transmitted due to:
- Poor personal hygiene
- Crowded places
- From flies that have been in contact with H. pylori-infected faeces
- Contaminated water
- Sneezing and coughing
- Handshakes with infected persons
This infection causes many symptoms that are similar to other medical conditions, which necessitates the need for careful diagnosis and seeking medical advice to find out the cause of the disease and be able to treat it properly in order to avoid any complications. H. pylori are adapted to live in the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach. These bacteria can change the environment around them and reduce its acidity so they can survive.
The spiral shape of H. pylori allows them to penetrate your stomach lining, where they’re protected by mucus and your body’s immune cells are not able to reach them. The bacteria can interfere with your immune response and ensure that they’re not destroyed. This can lead to stomach problems. A number of other symptoms may be associated with H. pylori infection, including:
- Excessive burping
- Severe stomach pain accompanied by severe bloating even when eating light snacks
- Feeling bloated
- Lack of appetite, or anorexia
- Unexplained weight loss
- Dizziness and fainting in severe cases
- Shortness of breath and pale skin in severe cases
- Fatigue and exhaustion
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and family history of disease. Be sure to tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking, including any vitamins or supplements. Your doctor may also perform many other tests and procedures to help confirm their diagnosis: During a physical exam, your doctor will examine your stomach to check for signs of bloating, tenderness, or pain. They’ll also listen for any sounds within the abdomen. Tests and procedures used to determine whether you have an H. pylori infection include blood test; analysis of a blood sample may reveal evidence of an active or previous H. pylori infection in your body. In addition to a stool test that looks for foreign proteins (antigens) associated with H. pylori infection in your stool. Diagnostic tests for H. pylori infection include:
- CMV antibodies test
- Stool test: A laboratory test called a stool antigen test looks for foreign proteins (antigens) associated with H. pylori infection in your stool.
- Breath test: If you have a breath test, you’ll swallow a preparation containing urea. If H. pylori bacteria are present, they will release an enzyme that breaks down this combination and will release carbon dioxide, which a special device then detects.
- Endoscopy: If you have an endoscopy, your doctor will insert a long, thin instrument called an endoscope into your mouth and down into your stomach and duodenum to make sure H. pylori bacteria are present.
- Barium X-rays: In some hospitals, Barium X-rays are used to diagnose H. pylori infection.
H. pylori infections are usually treated with at least two different antibiotics at once, to help prevent the bacteria from developing a resistance to one particular antibiotic. Your doctor also will prescribe or recommend an acid-suppressing drug, to help your stomach lining heal. Treatment involves antibiotics, which are most effective if you have H. pylori and an ulcer. Although they aren’t a “cure all,” certain foods may help minimize your symptoms. For best results, seek guidance from your doctor or dietitian before changing your diet.
Your doctor may recommend that you undergo testing for H. pylori at least four weeks after your treatment. If the tests show the treatment was unsuccessful, you may undergo another round of treatment with a different combination of antibiotic medications.
Helicobacter pylori bacteria are present in contaminated food and water. Therefore, it is important to avoid these sources (e.g., floodwater, raw sewage.) Washing the hands thoroughly with warm soapy water after using the restroom and before eating also may help prevent infection. Eating utensils and drinking glasses should never be shared, since the bacteria can be spread through saliva.
Fruits are rich sources of antioxidants, which support your body’s ability to resist and heal from infections, and fibre, which may help ease ulcer pain. A high-fibre diet may also reduce gastritis symptoms.
Vegetables, like artichokes, peas, broccoli, spinach and sweet potatoes, also provide ample fibre and rich amounts of antioxidants. Because whole grains contain all parts of the grain, they supply more antioxidants and fibre compared to refined grains. Fatty foods delay stomach emptying, increasing your risk for gastritis pain and inflammation. To avoid these risks, choose lean protein-rich foods such as low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, beans and lentils, instead of high-fat meats and cheeses.
Both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee can increase acid production and exacerbate symptoms in individuals with ulcer disease. Alcoholic beverages can erode the protective mucosal lining along the gastrointestinal tract and lead to further inflammation and bleeding. To minimize symptoms, individuals with ulcer disease should avoid or limit both coffee and alcohol.