Helicobacter pylori, better known as h pylori, is a bacteria. It’s behind most peptic ulcers, and it can cause all kinds of digestive tract issues. At Batash Medical in Rego Park, NY, we offer h pylori testing so you can take charge of your health and get the answers you need when you’re suffering from digestive and abdominal disorders.
Why Does H Pylori Matter?
In small amounts, this is a natural bacteria that is good for us, so why get h pylori testing? The answer lies in understanding how this bacteria can be behind your chronic digestive issues when it starts to propagate out of control. While nearly everyone has these bacteria in their system, about 50% of the world is actually “infected” with it, meaning they have too much of it. For most people, an infection never produces any symptoms, but for those who do get symptoms, it can be life-altering.
What Infection Can Do
When h pylori are present in the stomach, it can decrease the stomach’s ability to produce mucus and enough hydrochloric acid. H pylori harm the stomach and digestive system in three crucial ways:
Our stomachs are not very hospitable environments. After all, they’re made to break down food into component parts for digestion and nutrient absorption! For any bacteria to survive there, it must have some survival mechanisms in place. For h pylori, one of those mechanisms is to release an enzyme called urease. This enzyme breaks down the urea that’s naturally present in the stomach, turning it into ammonia and carbon dioxide. This makes things safer for the bacteria, but for the person, it causes belching, bloating, and bad breath. Much worse, it neutralizes the stomach’s crucial hydrochloric acid.
The acid in our stomachs is absolutely crucial for digestion. That acid breaks down protein and minerals so our bodies can use these key nutrients. The presence of enough stomach acid also sends signals to our gallbladder to stimulate bile. That bile goes to the small intestine, where it metabolizes the fat we eat.
When an infection of h pylori interferes with that process, we cannot digest protein or fat properly or get some of the essential vitamins and minerals we need. This puts us at risk for auto-immune disorders, thyroid problems, anemia, and osteoporosis.
The acid in our stomachs is very powerful. It’s able to eat through living tissue, which is why it helps us digest proteins. So why doesn’t it hurt us? Why don’t the stomach’s acid secretions eat through the stomach itself? The answer is mucus. Our stomachs produce acid, and they also produce a special mucus that coats the inside, protecting it from the acid and from foodstuffs that might still have sharp edges.
When h pylori interfere with this mucus production, our stomach’s protection grows thinner, putting us at risk. Food and acid start irritating the walls of the stomach constantly, producing pain, inflammation, and discomfort. When that irritation gets bad enough, it can cause an ulcer to form. This weak spot in the stomach lining can be extremely painful.
When to Consider H Pylori Testing
The symptoms of an h pylori infection are very similar to the symptoms of other digestive issues, and that’s just one reason that h pylori testing can be very important. This is a fairly simple test, and it’s a fast way to get a handle on what might be causing your symptoms. A positive test would mean that the symptoms you’re experiencing are likely from these bacteria and treating the infection is likely to clear up those issues. If the test results are negative, the symptoms are likely due to something else and we can move on to other tests.
Some of the most common symptoms of h pylori infection are:
- Lack of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Symptoms of ulcers
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Abdominal pain
- Constant bad breath
Based on your symptoms, how long you’ve had them, and other questions we can ask when you come in for a consultation, we’ll know if it’s the right time to recommend h pylori testing.
Helicobacter Pylori Testing
There are several types of testing available, and the right one for you will depend on your unique situation as you discuss your health concerns with us.
The simplest test is a urea breath test. For this test, you’re given a drink with urea in it, which the enzyme released by the h pylori will break down. After waiting 15 minutes (to give the bacteria time to break down the urea into carbon dioxide gas), you’ll breathe into a bag. If the sample has high levels of carbon dioxide, then it’s very likely you have high levels of h pylori.
This test simply looks for the bacteria directly in a stool sample. This is a fast method of detecting an infection and is the preferred method for treating young children.
This is a rarely used testing method. It would only be used if other tests were inconclusive, which is not common. An endoscopy removes a small tissue sample, which a pathologist will examine, looking for h pylori and any other signs of disease that could explain your symptoms. It takes longer to get results with this test, but it can flag up other issues besides the h pylori which could be causing an issue.
What Should I Know About Testing?
These tests are one way of understanding the health of your digestive tract. There can be many reasons for the symptoms you’re experiencing, and h pylori are only one possibility. It’s also possible to have both an h pylori infection and another issue at play at the same time.
At Batash Medical, we specialize in gastroenterology and endoscopic weight loss services, and Dr. Steven Batash MD has years of experience diagnosing and effectively treating gastrointestinal issues like h pylori infections. We’re committed to helping you discover the root cause of your pain and discomfort and then treating it effectively.
Is It Really Necessary to Treat an Infection?
If your symptoms are mild, it can be tempting to wonder if an infection will simply go away on its own. In most cases, it will not, and h pylori can cause long-term health problems.
The longer the infection goes on, the more likely it is that you’ll experience inflammation throughout the gut. This can make it easy for food and bacteria to “leak” where they’re not supposed to go, causing food sensitivities, chronic pain, depression, bloating, “brain fog,” and other issues.
And because this “leaky” gut isn’t digesting nutrients properly, it’s easy to become deficient in iron and vitamin B12, both of which lead to long term fatigue and mental health issue.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a common and distressing condition that makes it impossible to enjoy food much of the time. It can cause cramping, pain, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and more. It can require significant medication and counseling to deal with the repercussions of long-term IBS. If IBS is caused by h pylori, then it can be treated. As the infection is eradicated, the symptoms will subside.
Mental Health Issues
The health of our brains is intimately tied to the health of our guts, and when h pylori infection goes on unchecked, the result can be constant anxiety, depression, and difficulty in concentrating. These symptoms only grow worse if the infection is also causing pain and gastrointestinal symptoms or if on-going IBS symptoms are causing insomnia and nutrition deficiencies.
Internal Bleeding and Perforation
If an ulcer breaks through a blood vessel, it can cause internal bleeding. If it breaks through the wall of the stomach, it can allow inflammation and infection into the lining of the stomach. This is a serious, life-threatening medical emergency.
Studies have shown that those with high levels of h pylori infection have a greater risk of stomach cancer. This is a particularly difficult cancer to treat since the early stages show virtually no symptoms, meaning it’s often not caught until it has spread to other areas of the body. Some of the early symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to those of IBS or h pylori infection, making it all the more crucial to rule out h pylori through testing.
How Helicobacter Pylori Spreads
The bacteria itself spreads very easily, especially where people share drinks, kiss, or eat from the same dishes: especially if dishes aren’t washed in hot water regularly. It’s important to wash hands regularly to prevent an infection.
It’s not fully understood why this bacteria will produce few or no symptoms in one person and devastating symptoms in another, though it is clear that anyone with a compromised immune system is at greater risk of suffering significant negative effects.
Treatment for Helicobacter Pylori
If your testing reveals you have a helicobacter pylori infection, the good news is that it’s relatively simple to eradicate this bacteria. The exact treatment method for you will depend on your unique situation and any other medical conditions you have, which we’ll work through when you come to see us for a consultation and testing. In general, however, treatment involves medication interventions that will eradicate the bacteria and lifestyle interventions that will help you feel better as you get rid of the infection.
There are two types of medications that will help. One is antibiotics, which will kill off the bacterial infection, and the other is medications that suppress stomach acid. This provides relief from the symptoms of h pylori infection. Of course, the goal isn’t to stop all acid production entirely but just to lower the amount of acid so you’re more comfortable.
In most cases, experts suggest taking two antibiotics at once just in case the bacteria develop a resistance to one of them during the course of treatment. The most commonly prescribed antibiotics are amoxicillin, clarithromycin, metronidazole, tetracycline, and tinidazole. Meanwhile, acid can be inhibited with three types of drugs:
This is the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, and it coats the stomach and protects it from acid.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
These stop the stomach from producing acid by blocking the little “pumps” that do so within the stomach. Common proton pump inhibitors include medications like Prilosec and Nexium and their generic equivalents.
Our stomach produces acid in response to histamines, and these medications simply stop the histamines from sending the signals that cause acid production. Histamines are also at work in allergic reactions, so you might recognize some of these medications, like cimetidine and ranitidine, as common anti-histamine allergy medications.
There are things you can do at home to help along your treatment and improve the symptoms of a helicobacter pylori infection. One of the most important steps is to minimize foods and drinks that cause irritation to the stomach, are difficult to digest, or which signal to the stomach to produce extra acid. It’s especially important to avoid things like:
- Spicy food
- Pickled foods
- Foods with high acid content
- Carbonated drinks
At the same time, you can give your stomach and your overall health a boost by eating a diet rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and probiotics. Some of the best foods to include, as you can tolerate them, include:
- Broccoli sprouts
- Kefir and yogurt
For many years, doctors believed that stress was behind peptic ulcers. It has only been in the last few decades that we’ve learned that h pylori are actually the primary culprit. However, the link between stress and ulcers is still significant, and that’s because there are certain things that can keep an ulcer from healing properly or make the pain of an ulcer worse.
Stress is a big culprit, so it’s important to find ways to manage your stress to give your body time to heal and the medications a chance to work. Alcohol and smoking are two other big culprits in making a helicobacter pylori infection worse, and both of them significantly interfere with the healing process. If you are able to stop smoking and minimize your alcohol intake, you’ll experience must faster relief and better healing.
How Long Does Treatment Take?
For most people, treatment goes on for a few weeks. It always depends on your unique health situation and exactly how resilient the bacteria are. We’ll give you another test near the end to determine if treatment is working. If the bacteria aren’t gone, we can extend or adjust treatment as necessary until you get the full relief you need.
Getting the Most From Testing
When you come to talk to us about your symptoms, our goal is to get you the right treatment and the best relief as quickly as possible. The more we understand about what you’re feeling, when it started, and what makes your symptoms better or worse, the better we’ll be able to help. Before your appointment, think about those questions as well as whether any of your family suffer similar symptoms and what medications and supplements you’ve been taking.
Is It Time for H Pylori Testing?
If you’re suffering any of the symptoms of a helicobacter pylori infection, come see us at Batash Medical in Rego Park, NY. We can get you the testing you need to understand your symptoms and get on the road to living a better and more comfortable life!