Helicobacter Pylori

Helicobacter Pylori

What is Helicobacter pylori?

Helicobacter pylori, commonly abbreviated H pylori, is a bacteria, which can cause infection of the lining of the stomach. It is a relatively new discovery first identified in 1982 by Australian researchers. It subsequently turns out that this is a relatively common bacteria, and may be the most common infection in the world. Only a small number of people who are infected by this bacteria experience any symptoms or problems from it. Infection is common in developing countries or areas where sanitation is poor. The rate of infection tends to increase with age. H pylori infects people after it is swallowed in food or fluids. Because the inside of the stomach is a very difficult place for bacteria to live due to the high acid content in the stomach, H pylori tends to be a very hardy organism.

Why is H pylori important?

As mentioned above, most people who are infected with H pylori remain asymptomatic. However, some conditions such as ulcers, some types of stomach cancer, and gastritis have been linked to H pylori. Gastritis is inflammation of the lining of the stomach that usually causes burning or pain in the upper abdomen. It is important to know that there are many other causes of gastritis besides H pylori. Ulcers occurring in the stomach or the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) have a 60% likelihood of having an association with H pylori. In addition, there are usually other factors involved in ulcer disease, such as NSAID (anti-inflammatory) medication use and smoking.

Two types of cancer have been identified in which H pylori play a role. These are gastric cancer and gastric lymphoma. Determining whether or not H pylori is a causative factor is a complicated matter and requires diagnostic testing and consultation with a physician familiar with the bacteria. Diagnosis can be done with blood tests, breath tests measuring carbon dioxide, and biopsies from the lining of the stomach taken during endoscopy. Each test has unique pros and cons.

What is the treatment?

Since the infection is so common, in some cases no treatment is recommended. But in individuals with proven ulcer disease, symptoms due to gastritis, or gastric cancer or lymphoma, treatment may be necessary. As previously mentioned, H pylori is a hardy organism and can be somewhat difficult to eradicate. Effective treatment regimes include 2-3 different antibiotics and one antacid medication. It is not uncommon for treatment plans to require that a patient take eight pills per day for two weeks. Fortunately, most of these regimes are highly effective and side effects tend to be minimal.

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