H. Pylori Infection
H. pylori are a type of bacteria that may not cause problems. However, sometimes it can cause pain, bloating, and burping, and may lead to ulce...

Table of Contents
powered by healthline

Average Ratings

What Is an H. Pylori Infection?

H. pylori are a type of bacteria that may infect around two-thirds of the people in the world. The H. in the name is short for Helicobacter—so called because they are spiral in shape (“helico-,” as in the word “helicopter,” means “spiral”).

Helicobacter pylori normally infect your stomach, typically during childhood, and, while this strain of bacteria does not cause problems in most cases, it may cause diseases in some people.

In your stomach, the bacteria are able to change the environment around them by reducing the acidity so they can survive. Their shape lets them penetrate your stomach lining, where they are protected by mucus. Your body’s immune cells are not able to reach them and the bacteria are able to interfere with your immune response, ensuring that they are not destroyed.

In some cases, an H. pylori infection can lead to problems such as ulcers developing in your stomach or duodenum. The duodenum is the section of gut leading from your stomach. H. pylori infection is also associated with stomach cancer and an inflammation inside your stomach known as gastritis.

H. Pylori Infection Causes and Risk Factors

H. pylori infections are thought to spread from one person’s mouth to another. They may also be transferred from feces to the mouth—if, for example, a person does not wash his or her hands thoroughly after using the bathroom. It is also possible to contract the infection from H. pylori that is present in water or food.

Children are more likely to develop an H. pylori infection—mostly due to lack of proper hygiene.

Your risk for the infection is associated with your environment and living conditions. Risk is higher if you:

  • live in a developing country
  • share housing with others who are infected with H. pylori
  • live in overcrowded housing
  • have no access to hot water which can help to keep areas clean and free from bacteria

What Are the Symptoms of H. Pylori Infection?

Symptoms may include abdominal pain, which typically occurs when your stomach is empty, at night, or a few hours after meals. It is described as a gnawing pain, and it may come and go. Eating or taking antacid drugs may relieve the pain.

If you have this type of pain you should visit your doctor. Also, if you have a strong pain that does not go away, you should contact your doctor.

A number of other symptoms may be associated with H. pylori infection. However, these are common symptoms that can be due to other conditions, and some are even experienced by healthy people from time to time:

  • excessive burping
  • feeling bloated
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • losing your appetite
  • losing weight

Although common, if any of these symptoms persist, or if they are causing you concern, it is always best to see your doctor. If you notice blood or a black color in your feces or vomit, you should consult your doctor.

Diagnosing H. Pylori Infection

Blood Tests

You may need to give blood samples, which will be used to look for antibodies against H. pylori.

Stool Tests

A stool sample may be needed to check for signs of Helicobacter pylori in your feces.

Breath Tests

If you have a breath test, you will swallow a preparation containing radioactive carbon. The H. pylori bacteria release an enzyme that breaks down this combination, releasing the carbon, which is then detected by using a special device.

Endoscopy

A long, thin instrument called an endoscope is inserted into your mouth and fed down into your stomach and duodenum. An attached camera sends back images that are viewed on a monitor. Any abnormal areas can be inspected, and special tools used with the endoscope can take a sample of these areas, if required.

Treating H. Pylori Infection

If you have an H. pylori infection that is not causing you any problems and you are not at increased risk of stomach cancer, it is thought that treatment may not offer any benefits.

Stomach cancer and duodenal and stomach ulcers are associated with H. pylori infection. If you have close relatives with stomach cancer or a problem such as a stomach or duodenal ulcer, your doctor may want you to have treatment. Treatment can cure an ulcer, and it may reduce your risk of developing stomach cancer.

Medications

You will normally need to take a combination of two different antibiotics, together with another drug that reduces your stomach acid. Lowering stomach acid helps the antibiotics work more effectively. This treatment is sometimes referred to as triple therapy. Some of the drugs that are used in treatment are lansoprazole(Prevacid), pantoprazole(Protonix), and rabeprazole(AcipHex).

You may have a test for H. pylori after you finish your treatment. In most cases, only one round of antibiotics is needed to clear the infection but, occasionally, you might need to take more, using different drugs.

What Can I Expect in the Long Term?

For many people infected with H. pylori, their infections never cause any difficulties. If you are experiencing symptoms and receive treatment, your long-term outlook usually is positive.

Treatment may not cure the infection if a person has a stomach or duodenal ulcer or stomach cancer. For those who develop these diseases, the outlook will depend on the problem, how soon it is diagnosed, and how it is treated.

Written by: Helen Colledge
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: George Krucik, MD
Published: May 24, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
Top of page
General Drug Tools
General Drug Tools view all tools
Tools for
Healthy Living
Tools for Healthy Living view all tools
Search Tools
Search Tools view all tools
Insurance Plan Tools
Insurance Plan Tools view all tools

What is a reference number?

When you register on this site, you are assigned a reference number. This number contains your profile information and helps UnitedHealthcare identify you when you come back to the site.

If you searched for a plan on this site in a previous session, you might already have a reference number. This number will contain any information you saved about plans and prescription drugs. To use that reference number, click on the "Change or view saved information" link below.

You can retrieve information from previous visits to this site, such as saved drug lists and Plan Selector information.