H. Pylori Overview
Overview and Definition
- H. pylori (helicobacter pylori) is a type of bacteria which lives in the digestive tract.
- "The “H” in the name is short for Helicobacter. “Helico” means spiral, which indicates that the bacteria are spiral shaped."
- If left untreated for years, H. pylori can cause ulcers "in the lining of your stomach or the upper part of your small intestine" and can, for some people, lead to stomach cancer.
- Once there, the bacteria "attacks the lining of your stomach, which usually protects you from the acid your body uses to digest food".
- The H. pylori infection is common, impacting about two-thirds of the global population. However, the majority of people with the bacteria never experience any symptoms.
- The spread of H. pylori has been decreasing as global sanitation has improved.
- H. pylori was first discovered in 1982 as being the primary cause of stomach ulcers.
- Ultimately, the specific cause of H. pylori is unknown, though doctors and researchers believe it "may be passed from person to person through direct contact with saliva, vomit or fecal matter...[or] through contaminated food or water".
- The bacteria is "more common in countries or communities that lack clean water or good sewage systems", suggesting that it is passed through contaminated water.
- Other risk factors for H. pylori include "living in crowded conditions", lacking a reliable source of clean water, living in or traveling to a developing country, and/or interacting or living with someone who has the bacteria.
- Because the official cause of H. pylori is unknown, it's unclear what can be done to prevent its spread. However, since it "might spread through unclean food and water, you might be able to prevent it if you wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating, eat properly prepared food, [and/or] drink water from a clean/safe source".
Symptoms and Long-Term Effects
- For the majority of people with H. pylori, there are no symptoms.
- Additionally, the bacteria itself does not cause any symptoms. However, it can cause ulcers, gastritis, and/or stomach cancer if left untreated.
- Symptoms such as a dull and burning or sharp stomach pain; bloating; burping; lack of hunger; unexplained weight loss; nausea and vomiting; bloody, dark red, or black stool; trouble breathing; dizziness and fainting; fatigue; pale skin; and/or "vomit that has blood or looks like coffee grounds" may be signs of an ulcer or cancer caused by H. pylori.
- Additionally, as the bacteria breaks "down the inner protective coating in some people's stomachs", it can cause inflammation and reflux or GERD.