May 21, 2016 248
It is the one and only Helicobacter pylori, it grows in the lining of the stomach and duodenum and is the cause of diseases like chronic gastritis, gastric ulcer and / or duodenal ulcer. In fact, H.pylori infection is often an important reason behind peptic ulcer disease (PUD) as it is present in virtually 100% of duodenal ulcers and 75% of gastric.
H.pylori has been in the news for various reasons – infection, ulcer and most interesting of all, it was the subject of a scientific research that ultimately went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2005. They made a notable and startling discovery that inflammation in the stomach (gastritis) as well as ulceration of the duodenum (peptic ulcer disease) or stomach is the result of an infection of the stomach caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. Apart from this, it was also found to be a major cause of Stomach Cancer.
How does this infection occur? How does it spread?
H. pylori normally infects the stomach during childhood most often it is transmitted from the mother to her child. Thus the bacteria ends up remaining in the stomach for the rest of his or her life! Most often, the infections remain asymptomatic i.e. no physical symptoms can be detected. However, it can result in diseases such as peptic ulcer, gastritis etc. The H. pylori bacteria can thrive well in the acidic stomach environment. These micro-organisms adapt easily by reducing the acidity of the surroundings so that they can flourish. Also, the shape of the bacteria is such that it permits them to infiltrate the stomach lining. Here they are protected by mucous and hence your body’s immune cells cannot reach them easily. Also, these bacteria tend to affect the body’s immune response making sure that they are not affected one bit. Ultimately, this will lead to stomach problems.
It is essential to find out the location as well as how severe the inflammation is in the stomach linings. In most individuals Helicobacter pylori infection is asymptomatic. Over a period of time, some of the individiduals with H.pylori infection can get peptic ulcer disease. Some of the more severe complications may include perforation and bleeding.
The infection is thought to spread via the oral-faecal route, when you don’t happen to wash hands thoroughly after using the bathroom. H. pylori can also spread through contaminated food and water.
Who is at risk of H. Pylori Infection?
Children are the most susceptible to this infection. They are at a higher risk most likely due to dearth of correct hygiene.
It is also said that long term use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can increase the risk of contracting peptic ulcer.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of H. Pylori Infection?
As mentioned earlier, most of the people suffering from this infection are asymptomatic – lack of presenting symptoms. However, abdominal pain can result when the infection grows into an ulcer. This pain occurs when the stomach is empty, most often at night or it could occur a few hours after meals. Antacids or eating food can help relieve the pain. However, if the pain is too strong, it becomes important to give your doctor a visit.
Some other symptoms of H.pylori infection includes:
- Feeling bloated
- excessive burping
- nausea or vomiting
- no appetite
- inexplicable weight loss
It is important to note that these symptoms can also be presented in various other conditions. A few symptoms mentioned here can also be seen in healthy people. Since the above mentioned symptoms are common, do consult a doctor if you find them persisting for too long or are concerned about it. Also, keep an eye out for presence of blood in vomit or if your faeces are black in colour – this calls for immediate attention of the doctor.
How are H. Pylori Infections diagnosed?
The preliminary tests include physical examination by the doctor for signs of tenderness, pain or bloating. Other non-invasive preliminary tests include the blood test, breath test and the stool test.
A simple blood test can help measure the level of antibodies in the blood and can help the doctor make an accurate diagnosis within minutes. A follow-up test to check the antibody level can help indicate the extent of eradication of the infection, after many months of treatment.
For this, the patient is made to swallow a preparation that contains urea. If the bacteria is present, carbon dioxide will be released because of action by the bacteria. This is detected by a special device.
As the name suggests, the patient’s stool sample is checked for presence of H. pylori.
What complications can arise due to H. pylori infection?
Infections due to H. pylori can result in peptic ulcer disease (PUD), but the infection itself can lead to complications such as:
- Internal bleeding – this can occur due to rupture of peptic ulcer
- Obstruction – this can occur when ulcer prevents food from leaving the stomach
- Perforation – this can occur when ulcer breaks through the wall of the stomach
- Peritonitis - Infection of the abdominal cavity
Studies indicate that people infected by H. pylori can be susceptible to stomach cancer – gastric adenocarcinoma. Although the infection is a said to be the cause of stomach cancer, people with H. pylori infection have never been seen to develop the cancer.
How can H. pylori Infection be treated?
Treatment for the infection in asymptomatic patients or in patients that have no specific problem will not be beneficial. Stomach cancer, together with stomach and duodenal ulcers, is related to H. pylori infection. Treatment can help cure the ulcer and it can possibly decrease the risk of getting stomach cancer.
Post-treatment, it is essential to do a follow-up test to check for the bacteria. Usually, a single antibiotic cycle is enough to treat the infection. In certain cases, it may need to be extended by changing the drug usage and dosage.
Diet and Lifestyle
There is indeed no hard evidence that nutrition and food can be involved as a factor to cause or prevent peptic ulcer disease in those who are infected with H. pylori. Eating spicy foods, smoking and alcohol can aggravate an already existing ulcer and impact its healing process.
Symptoms are not necessarily presented in most individuals. So do you know if you have H. pylori infection? Get yourself examined and be aware of your health condition.
Press Release: The 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren
by Hridya Anand
A biochemist by education who could never put what she studied to good use, finally found GetDoc as a medium to do what she loved - bring information to people using a forum that is dedicated to all things medical. View all articles by Hridya Anand.