Status: 07/10/2023 2:58 p.m
If symptoms such as nausea, a feeling of fullness or abdominal pain last longer than with a normal infection, you should clarify whether the stomach germ Helicobacter pylori is behind them.
Infection with the germ Helicobacter pylori is the most common cause of chronically inflamed gastric mucosa. The pathogens can damage the gastric mucosa. This can lead to the development of stomach ulcers and ulcers in the duodenum (medical term: gastroduodenal ulcer disease). Stomach cancer is also one of the possible complications of an infection with Helicobacter pylori. Infected people are about two to three times more likely to develop stomach cancer.
Symptoms of Helicobacter infection
When Helicobacter pylori bacteria lodge in the stomach lining, it can lead to chronic inflammation with various symptoms: bloating, upper abdominal pain, nausea, belching, loss of appetite or bad breath. The problem: Such symptoms also occur in many other infectious diseases. You should be particularly careful if such symptoms last longer. The family doctor and those affected should always consider the possibility of Helicobacter pylori infection.
According to the current state of research, around 30 percent of the population in Germany carry the Helicobacter pylori bacterium, with 80 percent of those infected not showing any symptoms.
How can Helicobacter pylori bacteria be detected?
There are various tests to detect Helicobacter pylori in the stomach: Firstly, a gastroscopy with removal of tissue samples from the gastric mucosa is possible. Such a tissue analysis offers a high level of diagnostic certainty, but it is complex and also associated with certain risks: complications such as cardiovascular problems or bleeding can occur in about one in 1,000 people examined during a gastroscopy.
A second diagnostic option is a breath test and a stool test. These examinations are uncomplicated and risk-free for the patient. However, the results are less precise than a gastroscopy: Under certain circumstances, an infection with Helicobacter pylori can be overlooked.
Certain groups of people have an increased risk of Helicobacter infection and its complications. You should get tested as a precaution, even if you don’t have any symptoms:
People with cases of stomach cancer in a direct family. People who regularly take blood thinners, stomach acid inhibitors or NSAID painkillers (ASA, ibuprofen).
VIDEO: How is Helicobacter Pylori treated? (6 mins)
Self-test: recommended with restrictions
Blood tests and stool tests for Helicobacter pylori are available in pharmacies and drugstores for self-use at home. Experts advise against blood tests. They can be used to detect antibodies to Helicobacter bacteria in the blood. However, the tests do not give any indication of whether the infection is acute or a long time ago and has already healed. Over-the-counter stool tests are more meaningful, but the results should always be confirmed by a doctor and the further therapeutic approach discussed.
Helicobacter pylori: Which therapy is necessary?
Therapy should always be carried out if Helicobacter pylori bacteria are detected. The aim of the treatment is to kill the germs and let the inflammation of the gastric mucosa subside.
The guidelines of the German Society for Gastroenterology, Digestive and Metabolic Diseases recommend a quadruple treatment consisting of two antibiotics, the chemical element bismuth and an acid blocker (medical term: proton pump inhibitor). In children, other therapy recommendations sometimes apply.
Helicobacter therapy: Pay attention to nutrition
Antibiotics and bismuth fight the Helicobacter bacteria directly. The acid blocker supports the therapy by suppressing the formation of acid in the stomach, which allows the antibiotics to work better. For this reason, you should not smoke during therapy and avoid foods that lead to increased gastric acid formation. These include coffee, acidic fruit juices, hot spices, fried, smoked and fried foods. The acute symptoms of gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) can also be alleviated by an appropriate diet.
Helicobacter: what follows after treatment?
The treatment lasts two weeks. A check-up should be carried out a few weeks after the end of treatment, with a breath or stool test being sufficient in most cases. In more than 80 percent of those treated, Helicobacter pylori can no longer be detected after the therapy. If the therapy has not worked, this is usually due to antibiotic resistance of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria. In this case, it makes sense to have the bacteria tested in a laboratory for possible resistances and then to treat them again with possible alternative antibiotics.
After an infection has been overcome, the risk of re-infection is low: the reinfection rate is assumed to be less than three percent.
Is Helicobacter pylori contagious?
Helicobacter pylori can be transmitted from person to person, especially if infected people do not wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet.
In addition, infection via polluted water or contaminated food is possible. Scientists assume that human-to-human transmission probably dominates in Germany and often takes place in preschool age. The most important risk factor is the infected mother.
The fact that bacteria can survive in the stomach at all was scientifically unknown until the late 1980s. Until then, it was assumed that the acidic gastric environment fundamentally ruled out the survival of bacteria. In 1998, researchers discovered that Helicobacter pylori can survive in the stomach because it produces an enzyme that protects it from stomach acid.
experts on the subject
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