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What Is a Helicobacter pylori Infection?

Gastritis is inflammation (irritation) of the lining of the stomach because of a stomach infection. The bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (also called H. pylori) causes this infection. It’s the most common cause of gastritis worldwide.

What Causes an H. pylori Infection?

How people get this infection is unclear. Possible sources of bacteria may be contaminated water or utensils. H. pylori can grow in the stomach lining covered by a layer of mucus that protects it from stomach acid.

What Are the Symptoms of an H. pylori Infection?

The main symptom is chronic stomach upset. Pain in the upper abdomen (belly) and cramps may be present and are often made worse by eating. Many people will have less appetite. Bad breath (halitosis) may also be present. A burning acid taste in the mouth, nausea, vomiting, and bleeding may occur.

Many people may have no symptoms, and the infection is found when a stomach biopsy is done during upper endoscopy.

How Is an H. pylori Infection Diagnosed?

The health care provider may suspect H. pylori gastritis from a history of stomach upset, pain, and cramps. Sometimes, upper endoscopy (looking at the stomach through a lighted, flexible tube) is done to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other causes. A stomach biopsy (removing a small piece of tissue) may be done to test for bacteria in the stomach and to exclude other stomach diseases.

A breath test (testing with a substance called urea) or stool test may also be used for diagnosis. Blood tests can also measure antibodies to H. pylori, but these won’t tell whether the infection is new or old because antibodies to the bacteria can last for several years after treatment.

How Is an H. pylori Infection Treated?

Three or four drugs may be taken for several days. These usually include the following types of medicines: (1) antibiotics (e.g., clarithromycin, amoxicillin, tetracycline, metronidazole, or some combination); (2) acid-suppressing drugs (e.g., omeprazole, lansoprazole, and pantoprazole); and (3) bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol™). Complications, such as stomach ulcers, bleeding, and increased risk of stomach cancer, can occur in people with longlasting infection left untreated.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing H. pylori Infection:

  • DO take medicines as directed by your health care provider.
  • DO call your health care provider if abdominal pain becomes severe or if symptoms don’t improve 2 to 3 days after treatment.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have side effects from the medicines.
  • DO call your health care provider if you vomit blood or you have blood with bowel movements or dark tarry stools.
  • DON’T smoke.
  • DON’T drink alcohol.
  • DON’T take medicines that can irritate your stomach, such as aspirin and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Contact the following sources:

  • National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
    Tel: (800) 891-5389
  • American College of Gastroenterology
    Tel: (703) 820-7400

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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