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H. pylori Infection

There are many organisms that invade our digestive system. One of these many microbes is Helicobacter pylori.

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It causes H. pylori infection that leads to peptic ulcers. More than half of the population in the world carries H. pylori in their stomach. However, only a few people develop symptoms of infection and therefore many never know they have the bacteria present in their system.

H. pylori can cause many digestive ailments. Other than peptic ulcers, it can even lead to stomach cancer as well as esophageal adenocarcinoma. Let us understand more about this infection from the following paragraphs.

What is Helicobacter Pylori?

Helicobacter pylori is a Gram-negative bacteria that has a spiral shape. It tends to grow in the mucus layer of the stomach. It can survive the stomach acid by secreting an enzyme called urease.  This enzyme tends to neutralize the acidic environment by converting urea into ammonia. It even has the ability to evade the immune system and grow within the stomach lining. This leads to stomach inflammation (gastritis) or duodenum inflammation (duodenitis). Thus, leading to damage of these organs by the stomach acid and enzymes.

Symptoms of H. pylori Infection

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As mentioned earlier, majority of the people never develop any symptoms of H. pylori infection. In some cases, minor symptoms like bloating, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, etc. is experienced.

People who develop a severe infection show the following symptoms:

  • Pain or discomfort in stomach
  • Bleaching
  • Feeling of fullness even without eating much
  • Vomiting
  • Dark, tarry stools
  • Low blood count due to bleeding ulcers in stomach
  • Bloody or dark vomit
  • Problems swallowing food

The changes carried out by the bacteria in the stomach can lead to abnormal cell growth. This can lead to stomach cancer, gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma or other forms of cancer in some individuals.

Causes of H. pylori Infection

It is usually children who are infected with the bacteria. H. pylori can spread through food and water contaminated by fecal matter. It is very contagious and can spread even through direct contact with contaminated body fluids like saliva, vomit or stools. It is common in people living in crowded areas and follow poor sanitation conditions. Many people carry the bacteria for life and do not they inadvertently pass it on to others around them.

Diagnosis of H. pylori Infection

There are many ways of diagnosing H. pylori infection.

These tests include:

Blood tests like blood antibody test.

A breath test called carbon urea breath test is carried out that helps in detecting labeled carbon dioxide in breath. The patient is asked to drink a solution containing labeled urea solution that is metabolized by the bacteria, releasing labeled carbon dioxide.  This proves presence of bacteria in the stomach.

Other tests carried out include:

rapid urea test, ELISA test, as well as microbial culture growth from stool samples.

Treatment of H. pylori Infection

Treatment of H. pylori infection is usually carried out when a patient is detected with active stomach or duodenal ulcer. The patient is advised antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection. Other antibiotic is advised to reduce the acid production in the stomach. This helps in healing the ulcers and stomach lining. One should avoid alcohol completely as it may interfere with the antibiotic treatment, leading to complications. These complications or side effects include vomiting, flushing, headache, etc.

It is important to get treatment for H. pylori infection. Once the bacteria are treated, it will help in preventing reoccurrence of peptic ulcers. It takes about 15 days of treatment to completely cure one of the infections. If one suffers of bleeding from ulcers or recurring ulcers, they should get tested for H. pylori infection. Many people never require any treatment or diagnosis as they do not develop any symptoms. However, in some cases, H. pylori infections can lead to cancer. Thus, make sure you seek immediate treatment for ulcers.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: January 26, 2015

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