Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a cause of bacterial infection in the stomach. This strain of bacteria can enter the stomach through contaminated water, food or saliva and can cause painful peptic ulcers to develop. Here's what you need to know about H. pylori infection:
Common early symptoms of H. pylori infection include nausea, increased burping, stomach bloating and a burning pain in your stomach, particularly after eating. A general stomachache that comes and goes is also often experienced by those with this infection, and you may experience weight loss due to loss of appetite. Without prompt treatment, H. pylori can damage the delicate lining of the stomach, which can lead to lesions developing. This can cause gastric bleeding and lead to you developing anaemia.
An H. pylori infection can be diagnosed with a visit to your GP surgery. Your doctor will check your symptoms and ask you to provide a stool sample, which will be analysed for the presence of bacteria. You may also have blood tests to check for raised inflammatory markers and signs of infection, such as an increased white cell count. You will also have a breath test, which is considered the gold standard in diagnosing an H. pylori infection. This involves drinking a liquid with added carbon molecules. The carbon molecules will break down and be absorbed into your bloodstream if H. pylori are present in your stomach. Once in your bloodstream, the carbon will be detectable in your breath, so you'll be asked to breathe into a bag and your doctor will measure the carbon content of your breath.
An H. pylori infection is an easily treatable infection that can be eradicated with antibiotics. However, you will need a long course of antibiotics, so your GP will prescribe a few different types to prevent the infection from becoming resistant to one type of antibiotic. Proton pump inhibitors will also be prescribed to reduce the amount of acid being produced by your stomach. This will allow the lining of your stomach to heal, which will resolve many of the symptoms associated with an H. pylori infection. Additionally, if you have developed anaemia, you will be prescribed a course of iron supplements. Your GP will ask you to repeat the breath test to confirm treatment has been successful.
Bacterial infections can take longer to eradicate when bacteria are left unchallenged for long periods of time. So, if you have any of the symptoms noted above, schedule an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.