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Helicobacter pylori – Test, Infection Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on March 6, 2014

H. pylori or Helicobacter pylori is a result of a type of bacteria that infects the stomach, typically in childhood. Infection by helicobacter pylori is one of the most common causes of peptic ulcers. Nearly 50 percent of the worldwide population is affected by this bacterium.

A lot of people never experience any infection anomalies despite the underlying presence of helicobacter pylori. The cause for this is unknown. Increased congenital immunity to the bacteria is often ascribed as one of the causes.

Individuals with peptic ulcers have to undergo a helicobacter pylori test to verify its presence, so that it can be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms of helicobacter pylori infection

Minor cases of helicobacter pylori infection can cause the below listed signs and symptoms:

  • Intermittent gastritis

  • Vomiting

  • Bloating

  • Mild belching

  • Abdominal distress

  • Nausea

Extreme cases of helicobacter pylori infection can cause stomach and duodenal ulcers resulting in below listed signs and symptoms:

  • Constant and unabated pain or discomfort in the abdomen.

  • Nausea and vomiting. The vomit may sometimes be bloody or look like coffee grounds.

  • Feeling full even after eating a small meal.

  • Bleeding ulcers may be present, leading to elimination of tar-like, bloody, or black stools.

  • Persistent lack of appetite.

  • Chronic bleeding, which can lead to a decreased RBC count.

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Fatigue

Patients who experience bloody fecal elimination along with exhaustion need to seek immediate medical attention. Some medical complications that can arise due to helicobacter pylori infection are listed below:

  • Damage to the protective lining of the stomach and small intestine. Such damaged areas are then vulnerable to the adverse actions of stomach acid leading to formation of ulcers or open sores.

  • Irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining leading to gastritis.

  • Increased risk to development of serious medical conditions such as some types of stomach cancer.

Causes of Helicobacter pylori infection

Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection is contagious in nature. The bacteria can spread from one person to another via direct exposure to infected saliva, vomit, or fecal matter. It can also transfer via food and water contamination.

The infection is often acquired as children. Adults rarely get infected by this bacteria. It may also be noted that even though helicobacter pylori is contagious, the transmission of this bacteria may not necessarily cause severe symptoms in the newly infected individual.

Some risk factors which can pose increasing threat to infection by helicobacter pylori are listed below:

  • Living in crowded communities, homes, or localities. Those living with many others in a single room are most susceptible.

  • Residing in areas with deficient or minimal supply of hot water. A dependable hot water supply allows people to keep their homes and localities neat and tidy, thereby decreasing the risk to helicobacter pylori infections.

  • Living with people infected by the bacteria

  • Residing in developing countries where the living conditions are usually overcrowded, unhygienic, and unsanitary.

Helicobacter pylori tests and diagnosis

Doctors will carry out many different diagnostic tests and procedures to ascertain the occurrence of helicobacter pylori infection. Some of the main helicobacter pylori tests are as follows:

  • Stool tests: The most common stool test for helicobacter pylori infection is the stool antigen test, wherein the stool specimen is checked in a laboratory for signs of foreign proteins or antigens. The foreign proteins occur due to infection of the stool by the bacteria.

  • Blood tests: The blood sample collected by a nurse or a lab technician is later investigated in a lab for signs of an ongoing or previous instance of infection by helicobacter pylori bacterium.

  • Scope tests:An endoscopy test to check for presence of helicobacter pylori infection is performed by passing down a long flexible tube, fitted with a tiny camera, through the throat, down the esophagus, and into the duodenum and stomach. The camera will relay images onto a monitor which is checked by the doctor for occurrence of any anomalies in the upper section of the digestive tract. The physician may also take tissue samples for a biopsy. Such tissue samples are later examined for helicobacter pylori infection.

  • Breath tests:In the helicobacter pylori breath test, a patient has to intake a pill, fluids, or pudding mixed with radioactive carbon molecules. The solution will then react with the bacteria present in the stomach of a patient. Its subsequent break down causes the release of radioactive carbon which is absorbed by the body and later elimination via the process of exhalation.Patients have to exhale out into a bag. The breath thus collected is then analyzed via special medical devices and checked for the presence of radioactive carbon.

Treatment of helicobacter pylori infection

  • Treatment of helicobacter pylori infection involves the use of two kinds of antibiotics at the same time so as to prevent development of resistance by the bacteria.

  • Acid suppression drugs help in healing of the stomach lining.

  • Patients need to undergo another set of helicobacter pylori tests, a few weeks after the antibiotic therapy. If the infection persists, then a new course of treatment with another set of antibiotics is given.

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