H. pylori are a type of bacteria that may infect around two-thirds of the people in the world. The H. in the name is short for Helicobacter—so called because they are spiral in shape (“helico-,” as in the word “helicopter,” means “spiral”).
Helicobacter pylori normally infect your stomach, typically during childhood, and, while this strain of bacteria does not cause problems in most cases, it may cause diseases in some people.
In your stomach, the bacteria are able to change the environment around them by reducing the acidity so they can survive. Their shape lets them penetrate your stomach lining, where they are protected by mucus. Your body’s immune cells are not able to reach them and the bacteria are able to interfere with your immune response, ensuring that they are not destroyed.
In some cases, an H. pylori infection can lead to problems such as gastritis and ulcers developing in your stomach or duodenum (the fist portion of small intestine). H. pylori infection is also associated with developing intestinal metaplasia (IM) of gastric lining, gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma, and stomach cancer.
H. pylori infections are thought to spread from one person’s mouth to another. They may also be transferred from feces to the mouth—if, for example, a person does not wash his or her hands thoroughly after using the bathroom. It is also possible to contract the infection from H. pylori that is present in water or food.
Children are more likely to develop an H. pylori infection—mostly due to lack of proper hygiene.
Your risk for the infection is associated with your environment and living conditions. Risk is higher if you:
Symptoms may include abdominal pain, which typically occurs when your stomach is empty, at night, or a few hours after meals. It is described as a gnawing pain, and it may come and go. Eating or taking antacid drugs may relieve the pain.
If you have this type of pain or if you have a strong abdominal pain that does not go away you should visit Dr. Simoni.
A number of other symptoms may be associated with H. pylori infection. However, these are common symptoms that can be due to other conditions, and some are even experienced by healthy people from time to time:
Although common, if any of these symptoms persist, or if they are causing you concern, it is always best to consult an expert like Dr. Simoni. If you notice blood in your vomit or a black color in your feces, you should seek immediate care such as calling 911 or going to your local emergency room (if you are already a patient of AGI and you are at Los Robles or West Hills hospital, ask the ER staff to contact Dr. Simoni immediately).
– Blood Tests
You may need to give blood samples, which will be used to look for antibodies against H. pylori. This is the least expensive, but also the least accurate way to diagnose H. pylori.
– Stool Tests
A stool sample may be needed to check for signs of Helicobacter pylori in your feces. This is an accurate test, but requires a stool sample.
– Breath Tests
If you have a breath test, you will swallow a preparation containing radioactive carbon. The H. pylori bacteria release an enzyme that breaks down this combination, releasing the carbon, which is then detected by using a special device. Breath test is also an accurate test to diagnose H. pylori but it is best utilized to confirm eradication after a course of treatment.
Upper endoscopy is by far the most comprehensive diagnostic as well as therapeutic test that can be done in the shortest period of time (between 5 -15 minutes). Any abnormal areas can be inspected, and special tools used with the endoscope can take a sample of these areas, if required. Also, if there are bleeding ulcers, several techniques can be utilized by an expert gastroenterologist such as Dr. Simoni, to stop the bleeding. In addition, any complications associated with H. pylori infection such as intestinal metaplasia (IM) of gastric mucosa, gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma, and stomach cancer can be ruled out. These complications cannot be diagnosed with any of the other tests such as blood, breath, or stool test, making an upper endoscopy the single best test to perform for anyone who has above mentioned symptoms.
Stomach cancer and duodenal and stomach ulcers are associated with H. pylori infection. If you have close relatives with stomach cancer or a problem such as a stomach or duodenal ulcer, your doctor may want you to have treatment. Treatment can cure an ulcer, and it may reduce your risk of developing stomach cancer.
You will normally need to take a combination of two different antibiotics, together with another drug that reduces your stomach acid. Lowering stomach acid helps the antibiotics work more effectively. This treatment is sometimes referred to as triple therapy. Some of the drugs that are used in treatment are lansoprazole(Prevacid), pantoprazole(Protonix), and rabeprazole(AcipHex).
You may have a test for H. pylori after you finish your treatment. In most cases, only one round of antibiotics is needed to clear the infection but, occasionally, you might need to take more, using different drugs due to development of resistant bacteria.
For many people infected with H. pylori, their infections never cause any difficulties. If you are experiencing symptoms and receive treatment, your long-term outlook usually is positive.
Treatment may not cure the infection if a person has a stomach or duodenal ulcer or stomach cancer. For those who develop these diseases, the outlook will depend on the problem, how soon it is diagnosed, and how it is treated. Therefore, the best way to avoid developing ulcers and cancer is to have early detection and eradication of this bacteria.
In 1994, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified H. pylori as a carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent, in humans, despite conflicting results at the time. Since then, it has been increasingly accepted that colonization of the stomach with H. pylori is an important cause of intestinal metaplasia (IM) of gastric mucosa, gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma, and stomach cancer. On the other hand, research has also shown that infection with H. pylori can be protective and associated with a reduced risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma (a type of esophageal cancer). This information by the International Agency for Research on Cancer is confusing and conflicting. Therefore, Dr. Simoni would recommend that you get screened by an upper endoscopy for any complications of H. pylori such as ulcers, intestinal metaplasia (IM) of gastric mucosa, gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma, stomach cancer and Barrett’s esophagus (a condition that can lead to esophageal cancer). This way you can have best of both worlds: eradicate H. pylori and reduce chance of stomach cancer while we would detect Barrett’s esophagus and treat it to prevent esophageal cancer.
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Advanced Gastroenterology, Inc.
Phone: (805) 719-0244
555 Marin Street, Ste. 270
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360