What is Helicobacter pylori?
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a common type of bacteria that can cause an infection in the lining of the stomach and upper intestine. People are usually infected with the bacteria as children, but may not have symptoms until they are adults.
What increases my risk for an H. pylori infection?
Experts do not know exactly how H. pylori infection is spread. Your risk for an infection increases if:
- You eat food that is not washed well or cooked properly.
- You drink water that is not clean.
- You have contact with bowel movement, vomit, or saliva that is infected with H. pylori.
What are the signs and symptoms of an H. pylori infection?
Most people who are infected with H. pylori never have symptoms. If you do, your symptoms may come and go and last for minutes or hours. You may feel better for a short time after you eat or take medicine. You may have any of the following:
- Dull or burning pain in your stomach or throat
- Nausea, vomiting, bloating, or burping
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Pain at night or with an empty stomach
How is an H. pylori infection diagnosed?
- A urea breath test may be used to test for H. pylori. Your healthcare provider will have you swallow pudding, liquid, or a capsule that contains a chemical. Then you will breathe into a container. Your breath sample will be tested for a reaction to the chemical that confirms H. pylori infection.
- A bowel movement sample may be sent to a lab to test for infection.
- Blood tests may be used to test for infection.
- Endoscopy is a procedure that uses a scope to see the inside of your stomach. A scope is a soft, flexible tube with a light and tiny camera on the end. It is passed down your throat and into your stomach. Samples of your stomach tissue may be removed and sent to a lab to test for H. pylori infection. This test will be done if your healthcare provider thinks you may have an ulcer.
How is an H. pylori infection treated?
- Antibiotics help kill the bacteria. You may need to take this medicine for 10 to 14 days. Your healthcare provider will prescribe at least 2 antibiotics at the same time.
- Antiulcer medicines help decrease the amount of acid that is normally made by the stomach. These help relieve pain and heal or prevent ulcers.
- Bismuth is a liquid or tablet that may be used to decrease heartburn, upset stomach, or diarrhea. It may also decrease swelling in your stomach and help kill the infection if other medicines do not work. It also protects ulcers from stomach acid so they can heal.
What are the risks of an H. pylori infection?
You may need more than one course of treatment to kill the H. pylori infection. Your symptoms may return after treatment. You are at risk for a peptic ulcer in the lining of your stomach and intestines if you do not receive treatment for your infection. H. pylori may also cause swelling in your stomach. The infection may lead to stomach cancer and lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes) if it is not treated.
How can I help prevent an H. pylori infection?
- Wash your hands well with soap and warm water. Clean your hands before you eat and after you use the bathroom.
- Rinse food well, and cook it properly before you eat it. This will help kill any bacteria that may be on your food.
- Drink clean water from a safe source. Only drink water that has been filtered or purified.
- Do not smoke or drink alcohol when you have an H. pylori infection. These habits could worsen your symptoms of heartburn and may increase your risk of cancer.
- Avoid use of NSAIDs. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding and kidney problems if not taken correctly. Your healthcare provider may tell you to avoid these medicines because they can make your symptoms worse.
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
- Your symptoms do not improve with treatment.
- You feel full after eating only a small amount of food.
- You lose weight without trying.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care or call 911?
- You have bloody bowel movements, bloody vomit, or vomit that looks like coffee grounds.
- You have sudden, sharp stomach pain that does not go away or spreads to your back.
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