Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, is a type of bacteria that causes gastritis or the inflammation of the inner lining of the stomach; it is also the most common cause of stomach ulcers.
What Is H. Pylori?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two-thirds of the world’s population carries the bacterium and the rate of infection is higher in developing countries. Most people who are infected catch it as children, but develop symptoms later in life.
Luckily, though, many people who carry the bacteria never develop any symptoms. And when they do, the doctors may prescribe a combination of antibiotics to prevent the bacteria from developing resistance. Experts think that it may spread through direct contact with infected saliva, fecal matter and vomit.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of H. Pylori Infections
The majority of people who are infected with H. pylori do not show any symptoms, and doctors are puzzled as to why some have more resistance than others. This could be due to hereditary patterns, individual lifestyles, environmental factors or a combination of all three.
An H. pylori infection typically leads to gastritis and ulcers, and the symptoms associated are:
- Burning pain in the abdomen
- Frequent burping
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, in severe cases, leading to bloody or black tarry stools, bloody or dark vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
There are a number of straightforward and accurate tests that can help diagnose an H. pylori infection and usually follows a diagnosis of gastritis or ulcers.
Typical diagnosis involves a complete physical exam and a thorough study of the patient’s medical history. Blood sample analysis may reveal evidence of an active or previous H. pylori infection, while a breath test can measure the carbon dioxide that is formed due to an infection. If the exhaled air contains radioactive carbon dioxide, it points to the presence of the bacteria in the stomach.
Biopsies of samples from the gastrointestinal lining can also detect the presence of H. pylori.
Treatment Strategies for H. Pylori Infections
H. pylori is a common bacteria and it may have the ability to develop a resistance to the antibiotics used to treat it. Doctors often prescribe two varieties of antibiotics simultaneously to prevent the bacteria from developing a resistance to the medicines. Doctors often prescribe an acid suppression drug to help heal the lining of the stomach.
Alternative therapies include:
- Lifestyle modifications like avoiding alcohol, tobacco, coffee and citrus juices
- Adding apples, celery and onions to your diet
- Vitamins A, C, E and B and omega-3 fatty acids
- Probiotics to suppress the infection
- Homeopathic treatments that target symptoms like nausea and vomiting
- Herbal remedies like mastic, licorice and peppermint to help relieve gastritis.
An H. pylori infection is usually acquired by ingesting contaminated food or water or by coming in contact with an infected individual. Understanding and following personal hygiene practices might help reduce the rate of these infections, especially in developing countries with lesser facilities.
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