Helicobacter pylori, often referred to as H. pylori, is a bacterium that is found in the human stomach and that is believed to pre present in almost 50 percent of the entire world’s population. This bacterium can be present in the stomach without causing any health issues, but it can also cause symptoms associated with gastritis, peptic ulcer, and in some cases, although rarely, it can lead to stomach cancer. It is unclear why it leads to this condition in some and not in others.
H. pylori is usually spread through food or water contaminated with fecal matter.
Symptoms of Helicobacter pylori
When the bacterium infection occurs, the stomach and the duodenum become more vulnerable to harmful factors, and it can result in chronic inflammation of the stomach walls, called gastritis, or of the duodenum, called duodenitis.
If this happens it can lead to symptoms such as bloating, pain and discomfort in the upper abdomen, constant feeling of fullness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark-colored stool and ulcers.
Diagnosis of Helicobacter pylori
Patients who complain about the symptoms associated with H. pylori are usually sent to a gastroenterologist, who will perform a set of tests to determine the cause of the problem. Those tests usually include a blood test that detects certain antibodies that are produced by the body in response to the infection with H. pylori, stool exam that detects the presence of h. pylori proteins in the stool, and a breath test, in which the patient ingests a liquid containing a substance that breaks down in contact with the bacterium.
Treatment for Helicobacter pylori
At this point there is no single drug that can successfully treat H. pylori infection. There are, however, treatment regimens that combine several medications over a week or two.
Most of these regimens use drugs called proton pump inhibitor, which reduce the acidity in the stomach, allowing the damaged tissue to heal.
The treatment usually involves two antibiotics, which reduces the chance of resistance and treatment failure. The American College of Gastroenterology has recommended four specific regimens that combine at least three medications and guarantee the cure of infection in 90 percent of patients.
In any treatment regime for H. pylori it is very important to follow through the prescribed course of drugs, otherwise the treatment may not be successful and the infection may come back.
As for the side effects, they depend on the drugs used in the regimen. For example, metronidazole and clarithromycin can cause metallic taste in mouth, and in combination with alcohol they can cause vomiting, rash, heart palpitations, headache and sweating. Bismuth can cause constipation and black stool, and many drugs cause diarrhea and cramps.