Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium that can reside in the human stomach and duodenum, which is the upper part of the small intestine. Most people infected with it never experience problems, but in some, it can cause gastritis, peptic ulcers and even lead to stomach cancer. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, H. pylori is responsible for over half of all peptic ulcers.
Personal Contact and Contaminated Water
According to MayoClinic.com, H. pylori is passed from one person to another through direct contact with saliva or fecal matter. H. pylori can also be contracted through contaminated water. Many people contract H. pylori as children, especially when living in crowded or unsanitary conditions with another person who is infected with the bacteria. However, symptoms of H. pylori infection, such as peptic ulcers, don't usually begin until adulthood.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Usually the first indication you have of an H. pylori infection occurs when you develop gastritis or a peptic ulcer. Gastritis is an inflammation of your stomach lining. Symptoms include indigestion, nausea, vomiting, gas leading to bloating and belching, and a feeling of fullness in your upper stomach after eating. If left untreated, gastritis can lead to peptic ulcers.
One symptom of a peptic ulcer is a dull, burning pain in the abdomen. According to the Ohio State University Medical Center, this pain can occur two to three hours after eating or in the middle of the night when the stomach is empty. It can come and go for several days or weeks, and may be relieved by eating. Other symptoms include weight loss, loss of appetite, gas leading to bloating and belching, nausea and vomiting.
Tests to determine H. pylori infection include blood tests, breath tests and a stool culture. The doctor may also perform an upper endoscopy. This involves passing a thin tube into your esophagus to visually examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.
Once tests have confirmed an H. pylori infection, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bacteria. Over-the-counter antacids can help relieve gastritis symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe drugs such as proton pump inhibitors and histamine receptor blockers to reduce stomach acid, and bismuth subsalicylate to soothe gastritis symptoms. If you have an ulcer, proton pump inhibitors and histamine receptor blockers will protect the ulcer from stomach acid.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, scientists are trying to develop a vaccine to prevent H. pylori infection. Until one is available, recommendations for the prevention of H. pylori infection include general hygiene and food safety guidelines such as washing hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before eating, only eating properly prepared food, and only drinking water from safe sources.