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What is a Helicobacter pylori infection?

  • Article
  • 2024-02-29

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a type of bacteria that can infect and lives in the stomach. It is a common cause of stomach ulcers and can lead to stomach cancer in some people. The bacteria can damage the protective lining of the stomach and duodenum, leading to inflammation and ulcers.

Symptoms: Most people with H. pylori infection experience no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they may include:

  • Heartburn or pain in the abdomen, especially on an empty stomach.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Bloating or abdominal fullness.
  • Frequent burps.
  • Weight loss.
  • Decreased appetite.

Sometimes more serious symptoms such as vomiting blood, black or tarry stools, and severe upper abdominal pain can be a sign of complications such as a peptic ulcer or stomach bleeding.

Diagnosis: The presence of H. pylori can be determined by several tests, such as:

  • Breath test: You blow into a bag which is then analyzed for the presence of isotopes in the exhaled air, which indicates an infection.
  • Blood test: Can show the presence of antibodies against H. pylori, but cannot distinguish between a current and a previous infection.
  • Stool test: Looks for H. pylori antigens in the stool.
  • Endoscopy: A procedure in which a thin tube with a camera is inserted to inspect the lining of the stomach and take a tissue sample (biopsy) if necessary.

Treatments: Treatment for H. pylori infection usually involves a combination of medications to kill the bacteria, reduce stomach acid production, and protect the stomach lining. This may include:

  • Antibiotics: Two different types are usually prescribed at the same time to reduce the chance of resistant bacteria developing.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): Help reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach, which allows the ulcers to heal.
  • Bismuth preparations: Can help kill the bacteria and have a protective effect on the stomach lining.

After treatment, another test may be performed to check that the infection has been eradicated. It is important to complete the full course of prescribed medications, even if symptoms improve, to ensure that all bacteria have been eliminated.

Lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments can also help manage symptoms, such as avoiding alcohol, spicy foods, and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that can irritate the stomach. It is also advisable to eat regularly, quit smoking and manage stress.

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