H. pylori, or Helicobacter pylori, are bacteria that can cause stomach irritation (gastritis), heartburn, and nausea and bloating (dyspepsia). H. pylori can also cause ulcers in the stomach and intestine.
H. pylori infection appears to be a risk factor for stomach cancer. However, most people with H. pylori do not get stomach cancer.
H. pylori is a common infection. Most often the bacteria are spread through contact with infected saliva or from bowel movements. For example, the bacteria may be spread when you share eating utensils or do not wash your hands after using the bathroom or before eating. The infection tends to spread among people who are living together and sharing food and bathrooms.
By middle age, 50% of adults have been infected with H. pylori.
Doctors are trying to learn why some people infected with H. pylori have gastritis and ulcers, while most who are infected with H. pylori do not have these problems. Habits that irritate the stomach, such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, may contribute to these problems.
Most people with H. pylori don’t have symptoms, but if you do, the symptoms may be:
Symptoms may be worse before or after meals.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and your personal and family history of stomach problems. He or she will also ask how much alcohol and nicotine you are using. Your provider will examine you.
If your healthcare provider tests you for H. pylori, there are 4 ways to do it:
Common complications of H. pylori infection are gastritis and ulcers. To check for ulcers, you may have a stomach X-ray test called an upper GI or upper endoscopy. The upper GI is not helpful in finding H. pylori, but it does find most ulcers.
Your healthcare provider may not recommend treatment if you don’t have symptoms of H. pylori infection. If you do have symptoms, you will need to take a combination of medicines, including antibiotics, for up to 2 weeks. If you are having a lot of stomach symptoms, your provider may give you medicine to help decrease stomach acid.
Symptoms of H. pylori infection usually get better within a few days after you start taking the medicine. The symptoms may come back if you become infected with the bacteria again.
If you are being treated for H. pylori infection, be sure to take your medicine exactly as prescribed. Take the medicine for as long as your provider has prescribed, even if your symptoms go away before you finish the medicine. If you are having problems with side effects from your medicine, tell your provider so you can try a different treatment.
If you have H. pylori, try to avoid irritating your stomach. Examples of irritants are caffeine, alcohol, and anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. If you find that any other particular food or drink causes stomach upset or pain, avoid that food or drink.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
Doctors don't yet know how to prevent H. pylori infection.