According to the Spanish Digestive System Foundation, Helicobacter pylori is an infection that 60% of the population suffers from. Although it does not often cause discomfort, it can trigger chronic gastritis and, in the long run, the appearance of an ulcer.
Helicobacter pylorus is a bacterium that usually lives in the stomach. It has a spiral shape, and at one of its ends, it has a kind of mobile hairs (flagella) that allow it to move and cling to the mucosa.
In addition, it produces ammonia that neutralises stomach acid and, in this way, it can survive in an environment as hostile as gastric juices.
A VERY COMMON INFECTION
According to the Spanish Digestive System Foundation, Helicobacter pylori infection affects approximately 60% of the population.
- Many people suffer from it throughout their lives without knowing it (it only causes symptoms in 10-25% of those affected).
- But many others develop digestive discomfort when the bacteria affect the protective barrier of the digestive system and stimulate inflammation.
Therefore, it is estimated that it is the leading cause of peptic ulcers and some cases of stomach cancer.
Dr Antoni Juan-Creix Comamala, head of the Digestive Apparatus service at Dexeus University Hospital, explains that ” there is not a single strain of Helicobacter pylori, and not all of them have in their genomic structure the possibility of causing these alterations in the gastric mucosa. Hence, the infection results differ depending on the strain you have “.
SYMPTOMS OF CONTAGION
- Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen that lasts for several days,
- Feeling of feeling full very quickly,
- Tiredness, nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite …
These are some of the symptoms that can alert us to the presence of this bacterium.
HOW IS HELICOBACTER DETECTED?
Usually, when the doctor suspects a Helicobacter pylori infection, they may recommend two types of tests:
- A stool or breath test.
- In some instances, an endoscopy may be needed to take samples from the area for a biopsy.
- A stool or breath test can detect
Sometimes, even if there are no symptoms, it is advisable to carry out tests to rule out infection, especially in families with a history of gastric cancer, in the study of chronic anaemia and patients with an active gastroduodenal ulcer.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR THE BACTERIA
” The problem with infection is not so much the existence of the bacteria as its ability to damage the mucosa, ” explains Dr Creix Comamala. After assessing the case, the doctor decides whether to apply a treatment to eradicate the bacteria. If so:
- Two antibiotics are usually combined, plus a drug known as proton pump inhibitors, drugs that reduce the amount of gastric acid in the stomach.
- The duration of treatment will depend on the medications prescribed, but it usually lasts 14 days.
- It is essential to follow the guidelines prescribed by the specialist strictly. Otherwise, drug-resistant bacteria can develop, which are challenging to eradicate.
In most cases, unless you are allergic to any of the antibiotics, the treatment does not usually have side effects.
- A good tactic is to offer at the same time probiotics that are effective in compensating for the loss of intestinal flora.
The most common treatment combines antibiotics with drugs that reduce gastric acid.
At the end of the treatment, a test is usually carried out again to check if the bacteria have been eliminated.
Although the reinfection rate is relatively low, in some cases, it is possible that, despite having killed the bacteria on one occasion, a new infection may occur after a while.
HOW IT SPREADS
Helicobacter pylori are present in saliva, faeces, and dental plaque. Therefore, contagion can occur by coming into direct contact with saliva or faecal matter from the infected person (for example, if you do not wash your hands well after going to the bathroom).
- When one of the family members has bacteria, it is essential to take extreme hygiene measures. It is recommended, for example, that the affected person keep personal items such as toothbrushes, towels, clothes…
Hygiene measures must be extreme for the affected person.
In any case, Dr Antoni Juan-Creix Comamala warns that ” it has been proven that the bacterium even resists water chlorination and transmission by insects is possible .” Hence, it is a widespread infection.
WHAT TO EAT IF YOU HAVE HELICOBACTER PYLORI
If the infection is confirmed, specialists recommend taking care of your diet and following a balanced diet rich in fresh products, avoiding heavy preparations (such as fried or battered), processed foods and excess sauces and condiments.
What diet is best to follow if you have Helicobacter pylori
Eating calmly, chewing food well, drinking enough water, and avoiding coffee and alcoholic beverages are also important. These measures are not so much because of the existence of the bacteria but because of the digestive symptoms, it causes, mainly to prevent gastritis.
HOW IT AFFECTS CHILDREN
The infection occurs during childhood and adolescence, but symptoms do not appear until adulthood.
- It is always a good idea to consult a doctor if the abdominal pain is very frequent or intense, if the discomfort appears after meals or if it occurs during the night (they cause the child to wake up).
- The specialist will assess whether any test needs to be carried out to detect the presence of the bacteria (usually, the least invasive ones are used) and decide whether any treatment needs to be applied.
- As in adults, the usual treatment includes the administration of antibiotics, but it must be taken into account that, especially in children under 12 years of age, the number of medications that can be used is relatively small.
In any case, at this time, “all efforts are directed at obtaining a vaccine “, explains Dr Antoni Juan-Creix Comamala. ” It would be the definitive solution in the medium term, although it must be taken into account that certain strains, which we could call “benign”, are part of the normal microbiota, and this factor is relevant for their formulation and efficacy.”