Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori)
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a type of bacteria. These germs can enter your body and live in your digestive tract. After many years, they can cause sores, called ulcers, in the lining of your stomach or the upper part of your small intestine. For some people, an infection can lead to stomach cancer.
Infection with H. pylori is common. About two-thirds of the world’s population has it in their bodies. For most people, it doesn’t cause ulcers or any other symptoms. If you do have problems, there are medicines that can kill the germs and help sores heal.
You can get H. pylori from food, water, or utensils. It’s more common in countries or communities that lack clean water or good sewage systems. You can also pick up the bacteria through contact with the saliva or other body fluids of infected people.
If you have an ulcer, you may feel a dull or burning pain in your belly. It may come and go, but you’ll probably feel it most when your stomach is empty, such as between meals or in the middle of the night. It can last for a few minutes or for hours. You may feel better after you eat, drink milk, or take an antacid.
Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. In a clinic, a doctor will use a tube with a small camera, called an endoscope, to look down your throat and into your stomach and the upper part of your small intestine. You may be asleep or awake during the procedure, but you’ll get medicine to make you more comfortable. The doctor may take a small piece of tissue from your stomach to look for signs of cancer, and also to test for H. Pylori infection.
Urea breath test. You’ll drink a special liquid that has a substance called urea. Then you’ll breathe into a bag, which your doctor will send to a lab for testing. If you have H. pylori, the bacteria will change the urea in your body into carbon dioxide, and lab tests will show that your breath has higher than normal levels of the gas.
Treatment for H. pylori
If you have ulcers caused by H. pylori, you’ll need treatment to kill the germs, heal your stomach lining, and keep the sores from coming back. It usually takes 1 to 2 weeks of treatment to get better. Combination of 2 different types of antibiotic along with the acid reducing medication. About a month after you finish your treatment, your doctor may test your breath again to make sure the infection is gone.
You can protect yourself from getting an H. pylori infection with the same steps you take to keep other germs at bay:
Wash your hands after you use the bathroom and before you prepare or eat food. Teach your children to do the same.
Avoid food or water that’s not clean.
Don’t eat anything that isn’t cooked thoroughly.
Avoid food served by people who haven’t washed their hands.
Though stress, spicy foods, alcohol, and smoking don’t cause ulcers, they can keep them from healing quickly or make your pain worse. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage your stress, improve your diet, and, if you smoke, how you can get help to quit.