Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori) is a bacteria that has been found to be the cause of many ulcers. Ulcers are sores or craters in the lining of your digestive tract and can be uncomfortable and even painful.

Ulcers form in two main areas: duodenum, where the stomach meets the small intestine, and the stomach itself. The acids and enzymes that digest food are located in this area. A protective mucous layer lines these areas to keep these substances from digesting the tissue in this area.

How does H. Pylori cause ulcers?

H. Pylori is a common bacteria that can be passed from one person to another. This bacteria enters your body and hides in the protective mucous layer lining the stomach and duodenum. It then weakens the layer and irritates the tissue underneath. Acid passes through the weakened mucous layer and burns the underlying inflamed tissue. This action leads to the formation of an ulcer.

What are the symptoms of ulcers?

Not all ulcers cause symptoms and sometimes symptoms will come and go. Common symptoms of an ulcer are:

  • burning, cramping, or hunger-like pain in the stomach, usually 1-3 hours after a meal or in the middle of the night
  • pain – may get better or worse with eating
  • nausea or vomiting – vomit may contain blood or look like coffee grounds
  • black, tarry, or bloody stools – indications of a bleeding ulcer

How is a diagnosis made?

  • Health history – your doctor will complete an examination and ask several questions such as: What are your symptoms? How long have you had them? Have you had any bleeding? Do you smoke or take pain relievers (especially anti-inflammatories)? Does anyone in your family have ulcers?
  • Blood test
  • H. Pylori breath test
  • upper endoscopy – a procedure in which a long tube is passed through your mouth into your stomach and duodenum and allows the doctor to view the lining in these areas

What is the treatment?

If it is determined H. Pylori is present and causing your ulcer, a course of antibiotics and ulcer medications are prescribed. Usually, killing the H. Pylori bacteria will prevent the ulcer from returning. If not all the bacteria is eliminated or it returns, another ulcer may develop and a second course of medications is required.

In order for your treatment to be successful, your medication course must be taken exactly as your doctor instructs. During this time, it is important to avoid cigarettes, aspirin, or NSAIDS such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Avoidance is important to allow for ulcer healing and ensuring it doesn’t return.

Should I call my doctor??

If you are being treated or have completed treatment and the following occurs, you need to call your doctor right away:

  • frequent vomiting or vomiting blood
  • dark, tarry, or bloody stools
  • sudden, intense pain
  • continued weight loss
  • continued pain after taking medication