H. pylori (short for Helicobacter
pylori) is a bacterium that
is present in the upper
digestive tract of about half
the people in the world. Most
people never know they are
infected because the bacterium
causes no problems for them.
However, in some people, H.
pylori infection can
disrupt the protective lining of
the stomach or duodenum,
allowing stomach acids to
irritate and form a deep sore.
This sore is called a peptic
ulcer. Irritation of the
lining of the stomach is called gastritis.
H. pylori infection
also is a major risk factor for
a type of stomach cancer.
Fortunately, tests are available
to detect H. pylori
infection, and combination
antibiotic therapy is very
effective in getting rid of the
Peptic ulcers are deep sores that develop in the lining of the upper
digestive tract when the lining’s normal defensives are overwhelmed by
harmful irritants, most often Helicobacter pylori infection or
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin,
ibuprofen, or naproxen. Each year about a half million people develop a
Peptic ulcers usually occur in the stomach (gastric ulcer) or upper
portion of the small intestine (duodenal ulcer), but they also can form
in the lower part of the esophagus (esophageal ulcer).
The most common symptom is a dull, burning pain or discomfort in the
upper abdomen. Bloating, nausea, burping, and vomiting also may occur.
More severe symptoms may include passing bloody stools or vomiting
Peptic ulcers usually can be healed with proper treatment. Left
untreated, ulcers may lead to internal bleeding, abdominal infection, or
a blockage in the digestive tract from scar tissue formation.
If a peptic ulcer is suspected, it is important to identify potential
causes, such as long-term NSAID use or H. pylori infection.
Treatment varies depending on the causes involved.
Most often an upper endoscopy
is performed to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and
duodenum for signs of an ulcer and to obtain a biopsy to check for H.
pylori. A simple breath test also can be used to detect H.
The goal of treatment is to heal the ulcer and prevent it from
returning. This is possible with management strategies aimed at
identified underlying causes. Treatment includes:
Healing the ulcer. Acid-reducing medications
(proton pump inhibitors, histamine2 blockers) are used to help
heal the ulcer. Other medications also may be recommended to
help protect the lining of the digestive tract while it is
Eradicating H. pylori infection. An H.
pylori infection often is found and is treated with a
combination of antibiotics. It is important to retest to make
sure the treatment was successful. It may take two or more
rounds of antibiotic therapy to eradicate the infection.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.