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.

Most people are not adversely affected by the presence of this bacteria. Some may develop stomach and duodenal inflammation and ulcers, and an infection can lead to stomach cancer in a very small number of people.

Causes of H. pylori Infection

A person can catch an h. pylori bacterial infection from another through contact with bodily fluids or through contaminated water or food. Once the bacteria enters the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, it attaches itself to the lining of the stomach and produces toxins like Vac-A, which causes inflammation and further damage to the stomach lining.

When acid gets through this damaged lining, the person can develop painful ulcers, which may bleed or perforate—cause a hole in the stomach or small intestinal wall. Both bleeding and perforation require surgery. Most people infected with H. pylori do not react this way, however, and experts do not know why a small number do.

little girl licking her finger


Symptoms of H. pylori Infection

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 nausea, bloating, vomiting, and indigestion.

While most of these can resolve on their own or with home care similar to the flu, some symptoms indicate an adverse reaction and require immediate medical attention, such as

  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Dark or bloody stool
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomit that looks like coffee grounds or contains blood
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Belly pain or swelling


Diagnosing H. pylori

More than 90% of duodenal ulcers and 70% of stomach ulcers are caused by H. pylori. Simple tests can confirm the presence of the bacteria.

  • Blood tests will show antibodies that indicate a recent infection, though they may also remain for years after the infection has resolved.
  • Urea breath test uses a patient's breath sample to test for higher-than-normal levels of carbon dioxide, which confirm an H. pylori infection.
  • The doctor may wish to have a stool sample sent to the lab to test for foreign proteins.
  • An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy allows the doctor to look at ulcers and take tissue samples to test for H. pylori. During the exam, a tube with a small camera is inserted into the mouth, through the esophagus, and into the stomach and duodenum.
  • The doctor may wish to view the upper GI tract with an x-ray. The patient drinks barium to color the GI tract so that it shows up clearly in the scan.

breath urea test woman blowing into medical bag


Treating H. pylori

One or two weeks of medication is the most common treatment for an H. pylori infection with ulcers. 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 is sequential therapy. This consists of an antibiotic plus an acid blocker for five days, followed by two other antibiotics and an acid blocker for the next five days.

doctor explaining prescription drugs to patient

Antibiotic Resistance to Treatment

Antibiotic resistance is becoming an alarming problem with many types of bacteria, including H. pylori. One study showed various degrees of resistance to the top four antibiotics used to treat H. pylori and 90 percent resistance to four second-line antibiotics.

One way to approach this is to test individual patients with the infection for antibiotic susceptibility and to prevent the overuse of antibiotics. Some research is also examining alternative treatments.

gloved hand showing petri dish of antibody resistence


Alternative Treatment: Propolis

Many studies have looked at propolis for its antimicrobial qualities.

Propolis is a resinous substance that honey bees make to build and repair their hives. It is composed of different buds, plants, and fluids, and research shows that it is beneficial in treating H. pylori, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

bees in their beehive making propolis


Alternative Treatment: Curcumin, Garlic, and Ginseng

Other alternative treatments that are promising, including curcumin, garlic, and ginseng. Curcumin is an active component of turmeric. Researchers have done many studies on curcumin, showing it has multiple health benefits, including antibiotic properties. Its anti-inflammatory actions make it particularly useful for treating H. pylori. One in vitro study showed it slowed growth in 19 strains of H. pylori.

Ginseng is an herb widely used in Asian folk medicine. Many studies show that it has antimicrobial properties, specifically inhibiting H. pylori by dislodging it from gastric cells and prohibiting bacterial activity and inflammation. Research has also shown that garlic extract is effective as an add-on to sequential therapy for H. pylori.

garlic, ginseng, tumeric and other natural herbs


Prognosis for H. pylori Infection

People with mild symptoms have an excellent prognosis. Approximately 20 percent of patients with serious symptoms of an H. pylori infection will develop the infection again in the future, 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, which may be life-threatening. Untreated H. pylori infection can also raise the risk of certain types of stomach cancer, affecting about two percent of people who get the infection.


Preventing H. pylori

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. In general, wash your hands well after contact with bodily fluids or being outside, and before eating. Avoid unknown water sources when traveling in developing countries, and cook all animal products thoroughly before eating them.

If you already have the H. pylori bacteria in your system, some healthful lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of developing ulcers. These include stopping smoking, reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption, taking pain-relievers other than acetaminophen, which can cause gastritis, and reducing stress.


Risk Factors for H. pylori

Children are most likely to contract h. pylori. In addition, 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.


Popular Now on Facty Health


This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.