Helicobacter pylori is an extremely common infection. It is estimated that up to 50% of population worldwide are infected by this organism. Fortunately, its overall infection rate has been in decline in recent years. Helicobacter pylori is thought to be transmitted by the fecal oral route. As a result, individuals from less developed countries with poor hygienic condition are more prone to contract this illness. Not unexpectedly, Helicobacter pylori is more common in less developed countries.
H. pylori requires acid to survive and proliferate. Not unexpectedly, it is found primarily in the human stomach. In fact, it is difficult to find this orgianism outside the human body. Once infected, the organism causes chronic and persistent inflammation in the stomach. Helicobacter pylori causes chronic gastritis, peptic ulcer, pre-malignant conditions of the stomach including intestinal metaplasia and dysplasia, as well as even stomach cancer. Studies have shown that there is up to 6 fold increase in the risk of developing stomach cancer in individuals infected with this organism. Fortunately, treatment of Helicobacter pylori appears to reduce this risk.
There are several methods of diagnosing H. pylori. They include serology, blood test that determines the presence of antibody against this particular organism. This test is, however, limited by the fact that the antibody may persist for years even after the organism is eradicated. Thus, blood test is not accurate in diagnosing an acute ongoing infection by Helicobacter pylori. Other tests for presence of this organism may include urea breath test and stool antigen test. We often recommend an upper endoscopy examination, carefully examining the entire lining of the stomach. At the same time, a small sampling or biopsy can be performed to test for Helicobacter pylori either under the microscope or with a special test called CLO test.
The treatment of H. pylori usually involves three medications called Triple Therapy. They include two antibiotics such as Amoxicillin and Clarithromycin, and a proton pump inhibitor such as omeprazole that suppresses the production of acid in the stomach. When the treatment is administered for a duration of 2 weeks, one can expect up to 80-90% cure rate from this infection.
H. pylori is an extremely common condition that can cause gastritis (inflammation of stomach), ulcer, and even stomach cancer. It is an infection that needs to be eradicated not only to treat gastritis or ulcer, but as a means to prevent the development of stomach cancer.