Monday, November 25, 2013

Heartburn and Ulcers May be Due to Bacteria – The Dangers of H. Pylori

A Possible Simple Cure for Ulcers and Gastritis - Photo by Jacobolus
Twenty-five million people in America suffer with heartburn or stomach inflammation for days, weeks, months, or perhaps years. The burning sensation in the stomach area may include other symptoms ranging from nausea and vomiting to bleeding and anemia. These symptoms may recur with no real, satisfactory relief.

Many people who suffer with ulcers, GERD, or inflammation of the stomach assume that the pain is due to spicy foods, stress, or lifestyle and may treat the symptoms with antacids, acid blockers, bland diet, and other remedies, but the symptoms may come back over and over again because the cause has not been removed.

Infection with a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) may be the cause of chronic or long-term gastritis (inflammation in the stomach) and 80% to 90% of peptic or duodenal ulcers. According to some studies, approximately half of all adults in industrialized countries are infected with H. pylori, a pathogen that has been classified as a carcinogen since 1994. People with H. pylori in the gut have a 2- to 6-fold increased risk of certain types of cancer. The presence of H. pylori may also affect lung function in those who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

H. Pylori Risk and Spread - Photo by Ed Uthman, MD
How Do People Get H. pylori?

In the United States, those who are older, African American, Hispanic, or of lower socioeconomic status tend to have a higher risk for getting H. pylori. Some studies have shown that men and boys may have an increased risk. Higher rates of H. pylori infection in industrialized countries tend to be associated with lower socioeconomic status or crowded living conditions, such as orphanages, homes for seniors, and institutions for those who are handicapped. One study found that higher cholesterol levels were associated with positive H. pylori tests. Many people who do not fall under one of the above categories harbor H. pylori in the gut.

The human stomach seems to be one of the best reservoirs for H. pylori, and the bacteria is often present in the body before the age of 10 years. So, how does this bacteria get into humans? Unfortunately, in most cases, nobody knows how the bacteria entered the body. Much of the research has conflicting results. A few professions in which one comes into frequent contact with gastric mucosa may be higher risk for acquiring H. pylori through direct contact, such as those who work in endoscopy, yet ironically dentists do not seem to have higher rates of the bacterial infection.

Water contaminated with feces may transmit the bacteria. Drinking contaminated or insufficiently disinfected water or eating uncooked vegetables in which crops are irrigated with contaminated water may increase risk for infection; however, even these study results are mixed. Contaminated water likely accounts for the higher rates of H. pylori in countries that are not industrialized because people living there may have fewer options for sanitary living conditions. In some developing countries, H. pylori infection rates soar to 90 percent.

Several studies have attempted to look at the possibility of oral (by mouth) transmission of H. pylori, once again with mixed results. An Australian study found an association between the presence of H. pylori and higher rates of plaque on the teeth. A small study in Lithuania found that each member of the family was infected with a different strain of the bacteria in four out of five families in which multiple members were infected.

H. Pylori May Cause GERD, Heartburn, Ulcers - Photo by U. S. Department of Health and Human Services
What Should You Do if You Have Ulcer or Heartburn Symptoms?

Those who suffer from persistent or chronic heartburn or ulcer-type symptoms should speak with a healthcare professional. Several tests are available to check for the presence of H. pylori. If the test comes back positive for the bacteria, the physician can then discuss options for an effective treatment plan, which typically includes antibiotic treatment for ten days to two weeks. Those who successfully complete therapy may be able to enjoy a whole new life free of heartburn and ulcer pain as the body is finally able to heal.

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