H. pylor (Helicobacter pylori) is a type of bacteria that infects the stomach. It has the ability to live in the acidic environment of the stomach for many years. It is not entirely clear how people pass on the infection to others. Many get H. pylori infection as a child and may get it from their parents.
H. pylori infection can cause several problems. In most people, H. pylori infection causes gastritis, or an inflammation of the stomach lining. Most infected individuals are not aware of the infection. However, many people can experience indigestion, abdominal pain, or nausea. H. pylori is also one of the most common causes of ulcer disease. It can causes ulcers of the stomach or the duodenum, also called Peptic Ulcer Disease. We used to think that ulcers are caused by stress or acid. It’s now clear that the majority of stomach ulcers are either due to H. pylori or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen. H. pylori is also a common cause of stomach cancer worldwide. The World Health Organization has classified H. pylori as a Class I carcinogen (a cancer causing agent).
We can diagnose H. pylori infection at our office by a highly accurate and simple Urea Breath test in about 15 minutes. Blood tests for H. pylori are usually the least accurate. If you have any alarm signs or symptoms, you may need to be evaluated by an upper endoscopy. During endoscopy, biopsies are obtained and H. pylori bacteria can be visualized under the microscope. Endoscopy can also show the level of inflammation in the stomach and whether there are any ulcers or tumors presents.
H.pylori is treated with antibiotics. We usually start with a combination of two antibiotics along with a medication to suppress stomach acid. Treatments last 10-14 days. You need to be rechecked for H. pylori infection 6 to 8 weeks after treatment to ensure that H. pylori infection is eradicated.
Dr. Mehdizadeh is an attending physician and clinical instructor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and specializes in treatment of gastrointestinal disorders.