H. pylori is a spiral-shaped, microaerophilic and gram-negative bacterium. It’s a common bacterium that grows in the digestive tract. An estimated 50% of the world’s population is affected with this bug, with infection more frequent and acquired at an earlier age in developing countries compared with industrialized nations. It is thought that infected people transmit H. pylori to others through contact with their saliva or other body fluids. Most people infected with H. pylori will not experience any symptoms.
What is Peptic Ulcer Disease?
About 10% of people infected with H. pylori develop peptic ulcer disease which is a general term for ulcers, or painful sores, that are found in the lining of the stomach or of the duodenum (upper part of the small intestine). An estimated four million Americans have peptic ulcer disease. (Note: while H. pylori is the main cause of peptic ulcers, there are other causes such as long-term use of NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen.)
How Does H. pylori Cause Peptic Ulcers?
After H. pylori enters your body, it attacks the lining of your stomach, which usually protects you from the acid your body uses during digestion. Once the bacteria have done enough damage, acid can get through the lining, which leads to ulcers.
Symptoms of Peptic Ulcer Disease
Not everyone with peptic ulcer disease will have symptoms. However, if symptoms are present, people will experience some or all of these symptoms:
• Upper abdominal pain or discomfort. Many describe this as gnawing or burning. The pain is worse when the stomach is empty. Some people find relief by eating and taking antacids.
• Heartburn, acid reflux, burping
• Nausea or vomiting
• Anemia due to low iron levels
You should talk with your provider if you think you may have a peptic ulcer and are experiencing the symptoms above.
In rare cases, the symptoms are severe due to bleeding, perforation, or obstruction. You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience the following:
• Black stools or red blood coming from the rectum
• Vomiting blood or black material
• Severe pain
Diagnosis of Peptic Ulcer Disease
There are different ways to find out if someone has a peptic ulcer. A gastroenterologist may view your stomach and duodenum by doing a test called upper endoscopy or EGD. The patient will first receive an anesthesia medication, and then the doctor will insert a thin, lighted scope/tube with a camera at the tip through the mouth and into the stomach and upper small bowel to look for an ulcer. Biopsies can be taken and treatment performed at the same time for complex ulcers. This is the preferred diagnostic test, since it can detect even small ulcers and allows for potential treatment at the same time.
Other ways to look for peptic ulcers include a barium test or a CT scan. However, these tests are less effective than an endoscopy to diagnose an ulcer.
If an ulcer is found, the doctor will test the patient for H. pylori. This test is important because treatment for an ulcer caused by H. pylori is different from treatment for an ulcer caused by NSAIDs. H. pylori is diagnosed through blood, breath, stool, and tissue tests.
Treatment for Peptic Ulcers
It is important to treat peptic ulcers because they usually will get worse if not treated. A combination of antibiotics to kill the H. pylori and other drugs to reduce stomach acid is the most effective treatment for H. pylori peptic ulcers. Your doctor may also encourage you to avoid alcohol and stop smoking (if you smoke).
If you are experiencing symptoms of a peptic ulcer, contact Richmond Gastroenterology to make an appointment.