H. pylori is a bacteria that can damage the stomach’s protective lining. Untreated, an H.pylori infection may lead to complications.
H. pylori is a common type of bacteria that grows in the digestive tract and tends to attack the stomach lining.
It’s adapted to live in the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach. The “H” in the name is short for Helicobacter. “Helico” means spiral, which refers to the shape of the bacteria.
It’s estimated that up to two-thirds of people worldwide have an H. pylori infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
H. pylori often infects a person’s stomach during childhood. Infections are typically harmless and don’t cause symptoms. However, in some cases, they may lead to stomach ulcers and some diseases.
Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment methods for H. pylori.
Most people with H. pylori never have symptoms.
However, it’s estimated that
Symptoms of a peptic ulcer from H. pylori may
- dull or burning stomach pain
- feeling full quickly after starting to eat
- unexplained weight loss
- acid reflux
- difficulty swallowing
- poor appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- discomfort or swelling in the abdomen
It’s important to note that many symptoms of stomach cancer, peptic ulcers, and other diseases associated with H. pylori can be caused by other issues. If you experience any symptoms you’re concerned about, talk with a doctor.
It’s still not known exactly how H. pylori infections are transmitted. The bacteria has coexisted with humans for thousands of years.
That said, infections are thought to be transmitted in
- Oral to oral: This may be transmitted through saliva from one person’s mouth to another, such as by kissing.
- Fecal to oral: Coming into contact with vomit or stool, such as if you don’t wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.
- Contaminated water and food: Food and water may be contaminated with feces or other bacteria in unhygienic environments.
Your environment and living conditions may also influence your risk for an H. pylori infection,
- living in a developing country
- lacking access to clean water
- sharing housing with others who’ve contracted H. pylori
- living in overcrowded conditions
If you have symptoms of a digestive condition, you may need to get tested for H. pylori. There are several ways to diagnose an H. pyloriinfection, including:
- urea breath test to check for abnormal carbon dioxide levels, a sign of an H. pylori infection
- stool test to check for H. pylori antigens
- blood tests to check for H. pylori antibodies
A healthcare professional may also recommend an endoscopy if the results of the other tests are inconclusive. This allows them to look at your esophagus, stomach lining, and a portion of your small intestine.
H. pylori infections may lead to peptic ulcers, which could develop into more serious complications. For example:
- Internal bleeding may happen when a peptic ulcer breaks through your blood vessels. It can be associated with iron deficiency anemia.
- Obstruction may occur when something like a tumor blocks the food from leaving your stomach.
- Perforation could happen when an ulcer breaks through your stomach wall.
- Peritonitis may develop, which is an infection of the peritoneum, or the lining of the abdominal cavity.
H. pylori may also increase your risk of developing gastric adenocarcinoma, a type of stomach cancer. A 2019 study found this risk is higher among people who smoke, as well as African American, Hispanic, and Asian people.
That said, it’s important to note that H. pylori rarely develops into stomach cancer.
If you have anH. pylori infection that isn’t causing you any problems and you aren’t at increased risk of stomach cancer, treatment may not offer any benefits.
A healthcare professional may recommend treatment if you have a family history of stomach cancer or stomach and duodenal ulcers. Treatment can cure an ulcer and help reduce your risk of developing stomach cancer.
Medications are used to help treat an H. pylori infection.
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, this typically involves a combination of two antibiotics and one proton pump inhibitor (PPI). This treatment is sometimes referred to as triple therapy.
Some drugs that are used to treat an H. pylori infection include:
- PPIs, like lansoprazole (Prevacid), esomeprazole (Nexium), pantoprazole (Protonix), or rabeprazole (AcipHex)
Treatment may vary depending on your medical history and if you have allergies to certain medications.
After treatment, you may need a follow-up test for H. pylori. In most cases, only one round of antibiotics is needed to clear the infection. If that doesn’t work, you may need to take other medications.
No vaccine can protect you from H. pylori. However, practicing healthy habits and hygiene may help prevent infection. These may include:
- washing your hands frequently, especially before cooking or eating, or after using the restroom
- drinking water from a source you know is safe
- avoiding food that hasn’t been cleaned properly or cooked safely
Most people with an H. pylori infection never experience any symptoms or problems related to the bacteria.
If you’re experiencing symptoms and receive treatment, your long-term outlook is generally positive.
A doctor will perform tests 4–8 weeks after you finish treatment to see if the medication eradicated the bacteria. You may need to take more than one round of treatment to kill the H. pylori bacteria.
If you develop another condition associated with an H. pylori infection, your outlook will depend on the disease, how soon it’s diagnosed, and how it’s treated. Very few people who get an H. pylori infection will develop stomach cancer.
What is the number one cause of H. pylori?
The exact cause of H. pylori is still unknown. However, it’s believed that the bacteria is transmitted orally, or by contact with infected feces, vomit, water, or food.
Can H. pylori be easily cured?
In most cases, H. pylori can be cured with a treatment course of antibiotics and PPIs.
Does H. pylori ever go away?
H. pylori can only go away with treatment. However, many people live their whole lives with H. pylori.
Is H. pylori bacteria contagious?
Yes, H. pylori is a contagious bacteria. It may be transmitted through contact with infected saliva, stool, vomit, food, or water.
H. pylori is a bacterial infection that affects the stomach lining of your digestive tract.
Some people live their whole lives without experiencing symptoms, while others may develop health complications like stomach ulcers. In rare cases, it may develop into stomach cancer.
Speak with a healthcare professional if you think you may be experiencing symptoms of H. pylori infection. They can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan that’s right for you.