Helicobacter Pylori infection

Helicobacter pylori (often abbreviated to H. pylori) is a type of bacterial infection that can colonise the stomach. In fact up to 30% of the world population have H. pylori in their stomach and most suffer no ill effects.

Until two Australians - pathologist Robin Warren and gastroenterologist Barry Marshall identified the bacteria and showed how it caused stomach ulcers in 1982 (and for which they won a Nobel Prize) - medical treatment of stomach ulcers had been based on a theory that they were caused by diet and stress and required specific medicines and in some cases surgery.

Now that the link between H. pylori infection and some stomach conditions, including gastritis and stomach/duodenal ulcers, has been shown, most treatment now involves a course of antibiotics combined with medicine to reduce acid levels in the stomach over a two week period.

H. pylori infection, as well as causing stomach and duodenal ulcers, has also been linked to the development of gastric cancer (gastric adenocarcinoma), even though only a very small number of people with H. pylori go on to develop cancer.

What are the symptoms of H. pylori infection?

Many people with H. pylori show no symptoms at all, however the following symptoms may occur.

  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Sensation of fullness after eating small amounts of food
  • Lack of hunger
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dark or black stools

How is Helicobacter pylori diagnosed?

There are several methods of diagnosis of H. pylori. Your doctor may suggest the following tests...

Gastroscopy/endoscopy

This is where the doctor examines the lining of the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum and may also take a biopsy (a small tissue sample) for examination.

Urea Breath Test

This test is a very accurate means of detecting the presence of H. pylori. After drinking a special liquid you breather into a small balloon.

Blood Test

H. pylori can be detected via a blood test but cannot has the limitations of not being able to differentiate past or current infection.

Stool Test

A stool (bowel movement) sample is taken and tested for the presence of H. pylori.

After treatment a follow up test will be conducted to ensure that H. pylori has been eradicated. If it has not, another course of treatment may be necessary.