Helicobacter Pylori is a type of bacteria (gram negative) that affects the stomach where it is usually found. It was formally known as Campylobacter Pylori. Though we often and sometime erroneously attribute all cases of ulcer to starvation, we have often failed to understand that most cases of peptic ulcer, gastric ulcer and gastritis are caused by this infectious microorganism.
It is believed that more than 50% of the world population, have H. pylori in their gastrointestinal tract. Because it is asymptomatic, symptoms may become pronounced when the patient develops gastritis or ulcer. That someone is infected with the bacteria doesn’t mean the individual will develop ulcer. But the person will be at risk of developing ulcer or even cancer.
How does H. pylori Cause Ulcer?
Helicobacter enters the body via the oral route which makes it easy for it to find its way to the digestive system where it attaches itself to the gastrointestinal tract. It begins to attack the lining of the stomach that protects the stomach from acids utilized in the digestive process.
This it does by producing biochemicals such as proteases and vacuolating cytotoxin A, which will trigger inflammation of the stomach lining and chronic gastritis at the point of infection. This allows digestive enzymes and stomach acid to overwhelm the mechanism of intestinal lining that protects the stomach and duodenal mucous membrane. The bacteria try to avoid the areas of the stomach where more acids are produced.
In people producing large amounts of acid, H. pylori colonizes near the pyloric antrum (exit to the duodenum) to avoid the acid-secreting parietal cells situated near the entrance to the stomach. In people producing normal or reduced amounts of acid, H. pylori can also colonize the rest of the stomach. This determines the exact location of the ulcer.
These processes will stimulate the production of gastrin which causes the parietal cells to produce more acids that will overwhelm and damage the duodenum and eventually result to ulcer. Having H. pylori infection on its own is not a disease state but it may result to some heath challenges such as peptic ulcer and other disorders of the upper gastrointestinal tract.
Signs and Symptoms of H. Pylori Infection
Symptoms of H.pylori are some of those experienced by people who suffer from stomach disorders. These signs and symptoms include;
- An ache, severe, sharp or burning pain in your abdomen (this pain may reduce when you eat a meal)
- Loss of appetite
- Frequent burping
- Unexplained and Unintentional weight loss
- Stool that is bloody, dark red, or black (coffee ground stool)
- Trouble breathing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Feeling very tired for no reason
- Pale skin color
- Vomit that has blood or looks like coffee grounds
When you experience some of these signs and symptoms, it is advised that you seek out your doctor for medical assistance.
Diagnosis of H. Pylori Infection
Diagnosing the bacteria could be via blood test which tests the presence of the antibody produced when the antigen enters the body. This is an immunochromatographic assay. This test may however, fail to detect the bacteria. There is also a breath test that tests for target carbon molecules that was ingested prior to the test. These carbon molecules are usually tagged and a special device to detect these carbon molecules when you breathe into a bag.
Tissue biopsy (scope test) and stool tests may also be used. While the stool test targets protein antigens released by the organism, the biopsy test is an endoscopic where a doctor inserts a tube with a tiny camera down the throat and into the stomach. This camera allows him to view the intestine for irregularities around the upper digestive tract. He removes tissue samples for analysis. An Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assaay (ELISA) based urine test is also available. But none of these tests are failsafe. CT scan is also employed to diagnose the infection.
How to Prevent H. Pylori Infection
Prevention of H. pylori infection is centred around personal hygiene. One must take handwashing routine seriously. Avoid eating uncooked or improperly cooked meal and drink only clean and safe water. People who lived with those infected by the bacteria stand a risk of being infected themselves.
People have been known over the years to use antacids in treatment of various forms of ulcer. While this provides temporary relief by blocking proton pumps (proton pump inhibitors or antacids). This method which was more or less the only option available only reduced the symptoms and did little or nothing to treat the condition.
Currently, there is the triple therapy approach that employs a regimen of drugs involving antibiotics to kill the bacteria, proton pump inhibitors to reduce the amount of acids in the stomach, histamine blockers which blocks the histamine that triggers stomach acid production and Bismuth Subsalicylate which coats the ulcer and protects it from stomach acid.
Helicobacter pylori has been severally suggested to have an important role in prevention of diseases such as acid reflux oesophageal cancer and Barrett’s oesophagus. The bacteria itself is not a disease but can result to ulcer or even cancer. Most cases of ulcer in Nigeria is erroneously attributed to starvation. Only medical diagnosis and treatment are guaranteed to solve the case of ulcer.
Ulcer may reoccur if lifestyle changes are not introduced, even after the bacteria has been eliminated. It is therefore important that as medical treatment is initiated, the patient should make lifestyle adjustments to eliminate risk factors that can trigger a reoccurrence. Ulcer is a very common disease that has a cure.
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