Helicobacter pylori is the most common bacterium responsible for causing stomach ulcers. The most common route for this infection is either oral-to-oral or fecal-to-oral contact. The following article provides information about the various causes, symptoms, and treatment options available for this condition.
Helicobacter pylori is a gram-negative bacterium that inhabits the gastrointestinal tract of humans, especially the stomach and small intestine. It is aerophilic in nature, i.e., it requires oxygen for survival. There are numerous strains of this bacterium, all of which have the potential to convert from helix to coccoid form. In about 80% cases, H. pylori does not cause any significant symptoms. It is estimated that over half of the world’s population harbor this bacterium in the digestive system. In some cases this bacterium may cause stomach and duodenal ulcers, non-ulcer dyspepsia, stomach cancer, and gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma.
Causes and Symptoms
According to various studies the majority of Helicobacter pylori infection cases occur during childhood. It is more common in developing countries; people residing in crowded and unsanitary areas are at a higher risk of developing this infection. Contaminated food and water are major causes of this infection. This infection is contagious and can spread from one infected person to another via close contact and exposure to vomit and stools.
In most of the cases, patients do not develop any symptoms. The reason behind this is not known, but it is believed that some people have in born resistance to the symptoms of this infection. In other cases, this infection causes mild inflammation of the mucosa lining of the stomach and duodenum. This in turn reduces the ability to cope with the acid secreted by the stomach. Hence, patients with this infection manifest signs of digestive problems. Some of the noticeable symptoms are abdominal pain, flatulence, gastritis, and peptic ulcers. In kids, the symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, blood in the vomit, and stomach pain. As these symptoms are more or less similar to other health problems, correct diagnosis is necessary for proper treatment of this condition. In some cases, chronic H. pylori infection can lead to stomach cancer.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Helicobacter pylori infection is diagnosed after conducting laboratory tests such as blood tests, stool analysis, and endoscopic biopsy of the stomach and intestinal lining. An individual is diagnosed with this infection, if the result of the blood tests show presence of antibiotics generated by the body against this bacterium. Another effective and quick method is the urea breath test (UBT), in which an individual is administered a capsule that contains radioactive urea in minute amount. H. pylori has the ability to break down the urea present in the body into carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide is eliminated from the body though breath. So, a few minutes after the consumption of this capsule, the exhaled air is examined for presence of radioactive carbon dioxide. If the exhaled air contains radioactive carbon dioxide, it indicates that the individual is actively infected with H. pylori.
This bacterial infection is treated by administration of antibiotics in doses recommended by the physician. Since bacteria develop resistance after being exposed to a particular antibiotic, the physician may prescribe combination of two or more antibiotics to avoid this complication. For immediate relief from the ulcer symptoms, over-the-counter antacids and other acid-suppressive medications (for lowering the acid secretions) can be prescribed.
One should complete the full course of antibiotics recommended by the physician, otherwise there may be chances of recurrent infection. After completion of the treatment course, the patient should opt for follow-up visits to check whether the bacterium has been eradicated or not. It is advisable to maintain personal hygiene and cleanliness to prevent this infection.