Gastritis and Dyspepsia
The symptoms are discomfort, bloating, nausea and perhaps vomiting. The person may also have symptoms that suggest ulcers – burning or pain in the upper abdomen, usually occurring about an hour or so after meals or even during the night. The symptoms are often relieved temporarily by antacids, milk, or medications that reduce stomach acidity. Yet, the physician does not find an ulcer when the patient is tested by x-ray or endoscopy. When H. pylori is found in the stomach, it is tempting to believe that it is the cause of the symptoms, although this connection is not yet clear cut. The physician will usually prescribe antibiotic therapy to see if clearing the infection relieves symptoms.
With stomach ulcers, H. pylori infection is found in 60 to 80 percent of the cases. Again, it is still uncertain how the infection acts to cause the ulcer. It probably weakens the protective mucous layer of the stomach. This allows acid to seep in and injure the underlying stomach cells. However, there is still a great deal of research to be done to unravel this relationship.
In times past, physicians were taught “no acid, no ulcer.” The medical profession felt the single most important factor causing duodenal ulcers to form was strong stomach acid. Research has now shown that over 90% of all patients who develop duodenal ulcers have H. pylori infection in the stomach as well. Medical studies are underway to determine the relationship between the two and how an infection in the stomach can be related to a duodenal ulcer. Acid is still important; patients without acid in the stomach never get duodenal ulcers. However, physicians now accept the fact that the infection is directly related to the development of duodenal ulcers. It is now rather easy to clear duodenal ulcers with the strong acid-reducing medicines available. But, the ulcers will usually recur unless the H. pylori infection is also cleared from the stomach.
Stomach Cancer and Lymphoma
These two types of cancer are now known to be related to H. pylori bacteria. This does not mean that all people with H. pylori infection will develop cancer, in fact, very few do. However, it is likely that if the infection is present for a long time, perhaps from childhood, these cancers may then develop. This is another reason why it is important to treat H. pylori infection.
When is Treatment Necessary?
Since the infection is so common, it is sometimes recommended that no treatment be given when there are no symptoms. However, these recommendations may change as more research develops. Increasingly, physicians are treating the acute ulcer with acid-reducing medicines and treating the infection with antibiotics. Interestingly, one of these antibiotics is a bismuth compound that is available over-the-counter as Pepto-Bismol. It is also available as a generic drug called bismuth subsalicylate. The bismuth part of the medicine actually kills the bacteria. However, do not go to the drugstore and purchase a bottle of Pepto-Bismol expecting this alone to cure the infection. H. pylori is buried deep in the stomach mucous, so it is difficult to get rid of this infection. Several antibiotic drugs are always used together to prevent the bacteria from developing resistance to any one of them. Current medical studies are being done to develop easier treatment programs for this difficult infection.