H. Pylori (Helicobacter Pylori) are bacteria commonly found in the stomach that cause infection. People who live together and share a bathroom, or food, can more easily spread these bacteria and become infected. Family members may not even know they are infected because they have no symptoms. The bacteria are widely present in developing countries. In the USA around 10% of children have been infected by age 10.In some people, H pylori can damage the protective lining of the stomach and small intestine. This can allow stomach acid to create and open sore (ulcer). H pylori can also cause inflammation in the stomach (gastritis).
While this bacterium has been found to cause ulcers, doctors do not know why some people with H. pylori develop ulcers and others don’t. In the past, professionals thought ulcers were caused by stress or eating certain foods. We now know that most ulcers are caused by either H. pylori or long-term use of aspirin or ibuprofen.
Some people infected with the bacteria may never feel symptoms. Others may experience:
- Stomach irritation
There are several tests available to check for H pylori infection:
- Blood test – the finger is pricked to get a small amount of blood to test for antibodies to the bacteria.
- H. pylori breath test. – a more sensitive test used to check for bacteria in the patient’s stomach.
- Stool test – a stool sample is taken and tested.
- Upper Endoscopy – the stomach and upper intestine are viewed by the doctor to check for ulcers or irritation. During this procedure, the doctor may also take out a small piece of tissue (biopsy) to do a CLO test. A sample of the mucosa from the stomach is put in a liquid. The doctor can quickly tell if there is an infection. If the liquid turns red, there is an infection. If it stays yellow there is no infection.
- Upper GI Series – While this test is useful in helping the doctor see if you have an ulcer, and pinpoint the location, this procedure is not able to test for the presence of H. pylori.
The most common treatment for infection with no ulcer involves taking several kinds of antibiotics and Pepto Bismol.
If you have an ulcer, treatment may involve several things. The doctor may prescribe a few weeks of antibiotics to kill the bacteria as well as medicine that will coat the lining of the stomach so the ulcer can heal. Other drugs may be prescribed that will stop the stomach from making acid, which will also help heal the ulcer.
It is very important that you follow the doctor’s instructions on taking the medication, including taking all medication for the entire length of time.
The doctor may suggest that family members be tested and treated for the bacteria to prevent any re-infection after you are treated for H. pylori.