Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) is a type of bacteria that infects the stomach. It is very common, affecting about two thirds of the world’s population and about 30% to 40% of people in the United States. H pylori infection is the most common cause of peptic ulcers. However, the infection does not cause problems for most people.
What are the symptoms of H.pylori?
- Stomach burning sensation
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling of fullness
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling like nausea
- Black dark stools
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will test you for H pylori if you:
- Have peptic ulcers or a history of ulcers
- Have discomfort and pain in the stomach lasting more than a month
Tell your provider about the medicines you take.
The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also cause ulcers. If you show the symptoms of infection, the provider may perform following tests for H pylori.
- Breath test — urea breath test (Carbon Isotope-urea Breath Test, or UBT). Your provider will make you swallow a special substance that has urea. If H pylori are present, the bacteria turn the urea into carbon dioxide. This is detected and recorded in your exhaled breath after 10 minutes.
- Blood test — measures antibodies to H pylori in your blood. Analysis of a blood sample may reveal evidence of an active or previous H. pylori infection in your body. However, stool tests are better at detecting active H. pylori infections than is a blood test.
- Stool test — detects the presence of bacteria in the stool. The stool antigen test is a very good standard for diagnosing H. pylori infection; it has an accuracy > 90%, making it very suitable for use in clinical practice.
- Biopsy — tests a tissue sample taken from the stomach lining using endoscopy. The sample is checked for bacterial infection.
In order for your ulcer to heal and to reduce the chance it will come back, you will be given medicines to:
- Kill the H pylori bacteria (if present)
- Reduce acid levels in the stomach
Take all of your medicines as you have been told. Other lifestyle changes can also help.
If you have a peptic ulcer and an H pylori infection, treatment is recommended.
The standard treatment involves different combinations of the following medicines for 10 to 14 days:
- Antibiotics to kill H pylori
- Proton pump inhibitors to help lower acid levels in the stomach
- Bismuth (the main ingredient in Pepto-Bismol) may be added to help kill the bacteria
Taking all of these medicines for up to 14 days is not easy. But doing so gives you the best chance for getting rid of the H pylori bacteria and preventing ulcers in the future. Take care.