Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, is a bacteria that exists in the stomach and gastrointestinal system of about half the population. In most people, it doesn’t cause any issues.
However, some people do experience problems associated with these bacteria, including stomach ulcers. At one time, ulcers were attributed to poor diet or stress, but now doctors have found that most people with ulcers have H. pylori infections. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria and improve ulcer-related symptoms.
The H. pylori bacterium is possibly passed between people through contaminated food or water, or contact with body fluids, including saliva. Most people who carry it pick it up in childhood.
H. pylori infection can cause burning stomach or abdominal pain, heartburn, nausea, bloating, frequent burping and weight loss. You may also have trouble eating some types of foods, such as those with higher fat content, because they irritate the stomach or make symptoms worse. These symptoms are typically associated with stomach, or peptic, ulcers — open sores inside your stomach or the upper part of your small intestine.
Your doctor will do some testing to determine if you are infected with H. pylori if you exhibit these symptoms. H. pylori can be detected through a breath test, a blood test or an examination of your stool.
Helicobacter pylori infection occurs when H. pylori bacteria infects the stomach. Around two-thirds of the population have the infection, but not everyone experiences symptoms. It isn’t completely clear how the infection spreads, but it may be via saliva, vomit or the fecal matter of infected individuals. It might also be possible to contract the infection from food or water which has been contaminated by the saliva, vomit or fecal matter of those with the infection.
H. pylori infection tends to be spread most easily in crowded living conditions, where the likelihood of contamination of food or water or of direct person to person contact is increased. People who live in areas without a clean, running water supply are also at higher risk, as they are more likely to consume unclean water which could be contaminated with the bacteria. Developing countries, where unsanitary, crowded living conditions are common, tend to have a higher prevalence of H. pylori infection.
If you test positive for H. pylori, you’ll usually be given one or two oral antibiotics to take. Doctors are usually concerned about H. pylori developing a resistance to any antibiotics, so they may prescribe two simultaneously and advise you to finish the full prescription.
Other treatments for ulcers caused by H. pylori include medications to suppress acid so your stomach can heal. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), histamine blockers and bismuth subsalicylate (commonly known as Pepto Bismol) can all help to reduce stomach acid.
After treatment, your doctor will test you again to ensure that the H. pylori bacteria are no longer present your stomach.
To prevent H. pylori infection, it’s important to adopt good hygiene practices. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating food, particularly if you live with someone who is known to have the infection.
Individuals with H. pylori infection should avoid preparing food for others, or should wash their hands thoroughly when doing so. Food that may have been contaminated with the infection should be thoroughly washed and properly prepared before consumption. For example, fresh fruits and vegetables should be peeled or cooked thoroughly.
Avoid consuming water from unclean sources; only drink clean, running tap water and also use this to wash fruits and vegetables. You should also avoid sharing drinking glasses or utensils with individuals with the infection unless they have been thoroughly washed in clean, hot water.