Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria called that infects your stomach. This usually happens during childhood. A common cause of peptic ulcers, H. pylori infection may be present in more than half the people in the world.
Most people don't realize they have H. pylori infection, because they never get sick from it. If you develop signs and symptoms of a peptic ulcer, your doctor will probably test you for H. pylori infection.
If you have H. pylori infection, it can be treated by your physician.
The exact way H. pylori infect someone is still considered unknown. Bacteria may be passed from person to person through direct contact with saliva, vomit or fecal matter. H. pylori may also be spread through contaminated food or water.
Most people with H. pylori infection will never have any signs or symptoms. It's not clear why this is, but some people may be born with more resistance to the harmful effects of H. pylori.
When signs or symptoms do occur with H. pylori infection, they may include:
- An ache or burning pain in your abdomen
- Abdominal pain that's worse when your stomach is empty
- Loss of appetite
- Frequent burping
- Unintentional weight loss
- Living in crowded conditions
- Living without a reliable supply of clean water
- Living in a developing country
- Living with someone who has an H. pylori infection
When to See a Doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you. Seek immediate medical help if you experience:
- Severe or persistent abdominal pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bloody or black tarry stools
- Bloody or black vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
Complications associated with H. pylori infection include:
- Ulcers. H. pylori can damage the protective lining of your stomach and small intestine. This can allow stomach acid to create an open sore (ulcer). About 10 percent of people with H. pylori will develop an ulcer.
- Inflammation of the stomach lining. H. pylori infection can irritate your stomach, causing inflammation (gastritis).
- Stomach cancer. H. pylori infection is a strong risk factor for certain types of stomach cancer.
Tests and procedures used to determine whether you have an H. pylori infection include:
- Blood test
- Breath test
- Stool test
Scope test. You'll be sedated for this test, known as an upper endoscopy exam. During the exam, your doctor threads a long flexible tube equipped with a tiny camera (endoscope) down your throat and esophagus and into your stomach and duodenum. This instrument allows your doctor to view any irregularities in your upper digestive tract and remove tissue samples (biopsy).
These samples are analyzed for H. pylori infection. This test isn't generally recommended solely to diagnose an H. pylori infection because it's more invasive than a breath or stool test, but it may be used to diagnose H. pylori ulcers or if it's needed to rule out other digestive conditions.
H. pylori infections are usually treated with at least two different antibiotics at once, to help prevent the bacteria from developing a resistance to one particular antibiotic. Your doctor also will prescribe or recommend an acid-suppressing drug, to help your stomach lining heal.