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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
What is Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)?
H. pylori is a type of bacteria that causes 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 spread. The following may increase your risk for an infection:
- 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 food 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. You will 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.
- Handle food properly. Rinse food well before you cook or eat it. Cook food all the way through. Proper handling 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.
- Ask about 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.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can worsen your symptoms and also cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol may worsen your symptoms of heartburn.
When should I seek immediate care?
- 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.
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.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.