H. pylori, also known as Helicobacter pylori, is bacteria that infects your digestive tract. Over time, it may result in sores, or ulcers, developing along your stomach lining or your small intestine. In severe cases, the infection may even evolve into stomach cancer.
The infection itself is common and an estimated two-thirds of people in the world have the bacteria in their body at a given time. Fortunately, most people may not even know they have it, because it doesn’t always cause symptoms such as ulcers. Many who do show symptoms also receive help from medications and current treatment options available and make full recoveries.
There are a few risk factors that may indicate if you’re at risk for developing H. pylori. For starters, the infection typically affects children more than adults. In fact, if you’re an adult and have the infection, chances are you contracted the bacteria sometime in your childhood since it often takes years for the infection to present symptoms. If you lived in the following conditions as a child, you may have a higher likelihood than others to develop the condition:
To date, the exact cause of the H. pylori infection remains unknown, though doctors believe it might pass from person to person via contact with vomit, saliva, or feces. Some also believe it may infect people via contaminated water or food.
If you have the H. pylori infection, you may experience a burning pain in your abdomen that may last anywhere from a few moments to hours. This is a common sign that ulcers are forming in the lining of your stomach or small intestine. Other symptoms of ulcers include the following:
If your ulcers bleed into your intestines or stomach, you may notice additional symptoms, including:
In rare, more severe cases, an H. pylori infection may result in stomach cancer, which has its own set of symptoms you may notice over time, such as the following:
If you think you may have an H. pylori infection, schedule a visit with your doctor. If you have symptoms of ulcers, your doctor may confirm the presence of the infection by running tests so he or she can recommend the best treatment options for your condition.
At the beginning of your appointment, your doctor will run through your medical history, discuss your symptoms, and perform a physical exam. During the exam, he or she will check your stomach for signs of swelling, pain, or tenderness. They may also order the following tests:
If you have ulcers, your doctor may also perform the following procedures and tests to get a better look at them:
If you have ulcers because of the H. pylori bacteria, your doctor will recommend medications to kill the bacteria and heal the damage caused by the ulcers. Typically, it takes between one and two weeks to recover from the ulcers. Some medications your doctor may recommend include the following:
Fortunately, anyone infected with the bacteria has a great prognosis. With so many effective treatment options available, doctors can help your body heal from the infection.
If left untreated, an H. pylori infection may result in stomach bleeding, anemia, hypotension, gastritis, and stomach cancer.