About half the world’s population is infected with the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium, a tiny organism that’s associated with stomach ulcers and gastritis. Without treatment, long-term infection can lead to an increased risk for stomach cancer as well.
Fortunately, H. pylori infections are highly treatable, leaving many to wonder why these infections are so common in the first place. In this post, the providers at Digestive Disease Specialists, with offices in Moline, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, offer an overview of H. pylori infection and treatment.
The basics of H. pylori infections
- pylori infections are highly contagious, and they can easily spread from human-to-human contact. They’re also transmitted through contaminated food and water and through contact with the saliva or fecal matter of someone who’s infected.
Once the bacteria are inside your body, they settle in the lining of your stomach and upper intestine, causing irritation and inflammation. Interestingly, about 80% of people who are infected never experience symptoms. But, for the other 20%, those symptoms can include:
- Stomach pain or burning
- Decreased appetite
- Bloating in the upper belly
- Vomiting that may contain blood
- Burping and indigestion
- Blood in the stools
1. pylori infections often occur during childhood, with the bacteria forming colonies early on, even though symptoms may not occur for years.
While symptoms can be relatively mild initially, as the infection continues without treatment, the bacteria can affect more of the stomach lining, causing symptoms that become much more severe. Eventually, continual inflammation and tissue damage can lead to certain types of stomach cancers.
Why H. pylori infections are so common
Lots of factors contribute to the high prevalence of H. pylori bacterial infections. First, the bacteria are easily transmissible from one person to another. And, because most infected people don’t have symptoms, they can spread the infection without even knowing it.
Areas of the world where overcrowding is common or where hygiene facilities are limited tend to have higher numbers of infections. That includes areas with unclean water sources, where the bacteria may already be living. Drinking, bathing, and brushing teeth with this water can help spread the infection.
The infection can also spread rapidly in areas where access to health care is limited, making it harder to get a diagnosis and find treatment. And finally, because these bacteria have lived with humans for thousands of years, they’re uniquely adapted to live within us, making eradication of the bacteria more difficult.
Treating H. Pylori infections
The good news is, once diagnosed, an infection can typically be treated with antibiotics to destroy the bacteria. Furthermore, medicine can be given to slow acid production while irritated and inflamed tissues heal.
Infections are typically diagnosed with a stool study or a breath test to check for the presence of the bacteria. In some cases, we may recommend an endoscopic procedure to see inside your stomach and obtain a tiny tissue sample for additional evaluation. After treatment, repeat tests are often used to ensure the infection is eradicated.
If you suspect you may have an H. pylori infection, or if you have any symptoms associated with a stomach ulcer or gastritis, we can help you find relief. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Digestive Disease Specialists today.