Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a bacteria that lives in the digestive tract. Experts claim up to two-thirds of the world's population has H. pylori. Many people are not adversely affected by its presence, but some people develop stomach and duodenal inflammation and ulcers. In a very small percentage of the population, infection from H. pylori bacteria leads to stomach cancer.
One person can acquire h. pylori bacteria from another, either by a fecal-oral or oral-oral route. It can also be acquired through contaminated water or food. Once the bacteria enters the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, it attaches itself to the lining of the stomach and produces certain toxins like Vac-A that causes inflammation of the stomach lining, which further damages the stomach lining. When acid gets through the lining of a stomach damaged by bacteria, it causes painful ulcers. These ulcers can further complicate with bleeding or perforation. Perforated ulcers are characterized by a hole in the wall of the stomach or small intestinal. Both bleeding and perforated ulcers require surgery. Most people infected with H. pylori do not react this way, however, and experts do not know why others do.
A person infected with h. pylori will only know about the infection if they develop gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) or ulcers. Signs of stomach ulcers include:
The following symptoms require immediate medical attention. They may indicate complications of the ulcer such as bleeding or perforation.
Children are the demographic most likely to contract h. pylori. People who live in crowded areas, or in places that lack clean, running water, are at greater risk of contracting the bacteria, as are those living in developing countries where general living conditions are unsanitary.
More than 90% of duodenal ulcer and 70% of stomach ulcer patients are infected with H. pylori. Simple tests can confirm the presence of the bacteria.
Treatment for H. pylori infection with ulcers usually consists of one to two weeks of medication. The infected individual will take antibiotics -- often two kinds -- to get rid of the bacteria, as well as an acid-blocker medication to heal the stomach lining, keep the ulcers from returning, and reduce pain and inflammation. The newest treatment for H pylori - sequential therapy consists of an antibiotic plus an acid blocker for five days, followed by two other antibiotics plus an acid blocker for the next five days.
With the majority of the population carrying this bacteria, it may not be possible to avoid an H. pylori infection altogether. However, the following hygiene measures can lower the chance of contracting H. pylori:
For people who already carry the H. pylori bacteria, the following changes can help prevent stomach ulcers:
People with mild symptoms have an excellent prognosis. Approximately 20 percent of patients with serious symptoms will have a recurrence of the infection, although ulcers usually heal well with little to no scarring. Severe infections left untreated can lead to damage to the stomach and upper GI tract, such as bleeding and perforation, which can be fatal. One more reason to treat this infection: H. pylori infection raises the risk of certain types of stomach cancer. About two percent of people with H. pylori infection develop gastric cancer.
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