H. Pylori Infection – What You Should Know
Meet the bacteria that breed plenty of trouble.
If you’ve been suffering from a dull, gnawing pain in your stomach that occurs several hours after a meal, which comes and goes over the course of several weeks, or wake up in pain at night, then you might want to say hello to an inhabitant in your stomach lining: the Helicobacter bacteria.
Also known as H. pylori, it’s a spiral-shaped bacterium which along with acid secretion damages stomach and duodenal tissue, causing inflammation and peptic ulcers.
Because of their shape and the way they move, the bacteria can penetrate the stomach’s protective mucous lining where they produce the enzyme urease, which generates substances that neutralize the stomach’s acids. This weakens the stomach’s protective mucus, makes the stomach cells more susceptible to the damaging effects of acid and pepsin, and leads to sores or ulcers in the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).
Most often, H. pylori is spread from mouth to mouth or from bowel movements. By middle age, 50 percent of adults have been infected with it. It tends to spread among people who are living together, sharing food and bathrooms.
After taking a medical history and conducting medical examination, doctors frequently use these methods to diagnose a H. pylori infection:
- blood tests to identify antibodies that indicate the presence of the bacterium
- breath tests to determine if carbon is present after drinking a solution that breaks down urea
- endoscopy, where doctors examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum through a thin, flexible lighted tube called an endoscope
- stool culture to check for the presence of abnormal bacteria in the digestive tract
Symptoms of H. pylori infection include:
- dull, gnawing pain in your stomach, relieved only when you eat
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
Doctors are trying to learn why some but not most people infected with H. pylori have gastritis and ulcers. Stomach-irritating habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol may contribute to these problems. Some people think ulcers are caused by stress or by eating food with too much acid in it, or even pint the finger at spicy food, but the truth is that most stomach ulcers are caused by H. pylori infection.
Once you’re infected, it’s pretty tricky to rid yourself of this bacteria since no single medicine can cure this infection. The best way to cure H. pylori infection is to take several medicines at the same time. To treat an H. pylori infection, doctors will prescribe several medicine: one or two antibiotics plus bismuth or a medicine to block stomach acid production. Sometimes, a one or two week course of antibiotics is often all it takes to wipe out all H. pylori organisms in the stomach, heal the ulcer, and reduce the chances of recurrence.
You can cure H. pylori infection only if you take the medicines just the way your doctor tells you. If you forget to take some of your medicines or stop taking them because of side effects, the infection will not be cured.
While these synthetic medications may make a big difference, many also come with side effects like nausea, vomiting, heartburn, headache, diarrhea and even greater risk of infection. Therefore, you may consider the natural approach, as it has a long history of excellent results without side effects and further damage to the system.
At this moment, doctors are still mystified on how to prevent H. pylori infection, since the source of H. pylori is not yet known. What they do recommend, however, is for you to eat food that has been hygienically prepared and to drink water from a clean and safe source.