Helicobacter pylori

Helicobacter pylori infection occurs when a type of bacteria H. Pylori invades the stomach. This usually happens during childhood.

As an infectious organism is the most common cause of peptic ulcer disease and is thought to carry more than half of the world’s population.

Most people do not realize they are infected with H. Pylori because they never get sick from it. If signs and symptoms of a peptic ulcer appear, doctors usually order a test for the presence of the bacteria in the body.

Because, if so, the treatment is with antibiotics.

What are the symptoms?

Most people infected with H. Pylori never develop signs or symptoms of infection. The reason for this is not clear, but it is possible that some people are born with stronger immunity to the harmful effects of the bacteria.

The characteristic clinical manifestations of bacterial infection are:

• Dull or burning pain in the abdomen;
• Abdominal pain that worsens on an empty stomach;
• Nausea;
• Loss of appetite;
• Frequent belching;
• Swelling;
• Causeless weight loss;

When to seek medical attention?

See your GP if you feel or notice a prolonged manifestation of signs and symptoms that cause you concern.

Get medical help immediately if you feel or notice:

• Severe and prolonged abdominal pain;
• Difficulty swallowing;
• That you pass bloody or black stools;
• That you vomit bloody or black stomach contents, or the vomit looks like coffee grounds ;

What are the causes?

The exact way in which H. Pylori infects humans is not known. The bacterium can be transmitted from person to person through direct contact with saliva, vomited stomach contents or fecal matter.

The infectious organism can also be spread through contaminated food or water.

What are the complications?

Complications that are associated with an infection caused by H. Pylori are:

• Ulcers – H.Pylori can damage the protective lining of the stomach and small intestine, which can cause an ulcer to form due to the acidic action of stomach acid. About 10% of people carrying the bacteria develop an ulcer.

• Inflammation of the lining of the stomach – infection with H.Pylori can irritate the stomach, causing inflammation of its mucous membrane /gastritis/.

Stomach cancer – H.Pylori is among the determining factors for the occurrence of certain types of malignant formations of the stomach.

Helicobacter pylori infection treatment

H.Pylori infections are usually treated with two types of antibiotics at the same time to prevent the development of resistance to a particular antibiotic.

Doctors also prescribe medications to suppress the production of stomach acids, which helps the stomach lining heal faster.

Drugs that can suppress the secretion of stomach acids:

• Proton pump inhibitors – these medications suppress the production of stomach acids. Some proton pump inhibitors are omeprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole, and pantoprazole.

• Histamine H-2 blockers – block a substance called histamine that causes acid to be released.

Examples of such drugs are cimetidine and ranitidine;

• Bismuth salicylate – better known as Pepto-Bismol – its action consists in covering the ulcer, protecting it from the action of stomach acids;

Testing for H.Pylori is recommended at least 4 weeks after the end of treatment. If the results show that the therapy was unsuccessful, a second course of treatment with another combination of antibiotics is appointed

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