What is Helicobacter Pylori? And How is it Connected to Cancer?
Helicobacter Pylori, or H. Pylori for short, is a harmful bacteria that attacks your stomach and can create serious and severe side effects, some of which might even lead to cancer. Even though it’s thought to affect about half of the world’s population and many people might never even feel its symptoms, the infection that occurs can create irreparable damage. Here’s what you need to know.
What Causes Helicobacter Pylori Infection?
Caused by the Helicobacter Pylori bacteria, this infection spreads from person to person through saliva, stool, or vomit. Additionally, it can be spread through contaminated water and food, which is often seen in third-world countries. It’s usually first acquired during childhood, although it can occur at any time during your life.
How this bacteria wreaks havoc on your system and causes ulcers and gastritis is still unknown, but it’s one of the leading causes of peptic ulcers. Some of the most common risk factors for getting infected with Helicobacter Pylori include:
- Living in a third-world country
- Living in a large, crowded household or a commune
- Living in areas without a steady supply of running, clean water
- Living with or being in intimate contact with someone who has H. Pylori
When Helicobacter Pylori enters your stomach, it secretes urease, an enzyme that converts the chemical urea into ammonia in order to survive the harsh and acidic conditions of your gastric juices. Ammonia neutralizes the pH around the bacteria, making it easy for her to spread and burrow into the mucus layer of your stomach lining.
Additionally, this clever bacteria has developed ways to communicate with your immune cells, making them ineffective in destroying her. That’s the main reason why it’s so hard to detect this infection and successfully get rid of her.
What are the Symptoms of a Helicobacter Pylori Infection?
The majority of people don’t have any symptoms of an H. Pylori infection which makes the condition more difficult to treat and heal from. It remains unknown why some people experience symptoms while others don’t, but those that do usually don’t feel anything until they develop gastritis or a peptic ulcer.
A peptic ulcer is a disease that’s characterized by painful, open sores in the stomach or the first part of the intestine, usually caused by bacteria like helicobacter pylori, smoking, alcohol abuse, or the overuse of pain relieving medicine (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs).
The symptoms of H.Pylori infection include:
- Pain and aches in the stomach (especially when the stomach is empty)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased burping
- Loss of appetite
- Bloating and gas
- Inexplainable weight loss
Even though these symptoms may seem vague and can be a sign of many different gastrointestinal issues, they should never be neglected. Checking can detect the infection early and make the healing and treatment more successful, not to mention prevent this bacteria from creating even more damage.
In some severe cases, you might experience blood in your stool or in your vomit. This is a sign that should immediately have you run to your doctor as it can showcase a burst ulcer or even stomach cancer.
Helicobacter Pylori and Stomach Cancer
It’s known that Helicobacter Pylori creates damaging inflammation in your gastrointestinal system, making it the strongest risk factor for developing stomach cancer. Multiple studies and research papers prove the powerful link between the two, making it that much more important to detect this very common infection on time and find a way to successfully heal from it.
In 1994, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified H. pylori as a carcinogen, linking it to gastric cancer, gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma as well as an increased risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma.
How Do You Treat Helicobacter Pylori?
The usual treatment of Helicobacter Pylori infection includes a combination of two antibiotics and an acid-reducing proton pump inhibitor. Sometimes, there’s a third drug added into the mix, Bismuth subsalicylate (also known as Pepto-Bismol) as it protects the stomach lining from the harsh medicine.
One thing to definitely avoid, even if you experience pain in your stomach and abdomen, are pain killers and especially NSAIDs as they further increase the development of peptic ulcers.
If you’ve already developed peptic ulcer disease, the treatment usually includes a combination of antacids, proton pump inhibitors, and histamine blockers to lower the acidity, medications to strengthen the mucus of your stomach lining, and antibiotics to treat H. Pylori.
If left untreated and you’ve already developed peptic ulcers, there’s a possibility of serious complications which might include excessive bleeding, perforation through the stomach lining (causing burning sensations), or a gastric outlet obstruction that narrows the opening of the stomach to the small intestine.
Alternative Treatment foe Helicobacter Pylori
Even though the existing medical treatment for Helicobacter pylori infection is yielding mostly positive results, many people don’t want to be on a combination of different drugs and are looking into effective alternative options.
For now, the existing alternative treatment and research surrounding the approach haven’t managed to actually get rid of the bacteria successfully, but it has kept low bacterial levels. Still, they have shown success in mitigating the negative effects of antibiotics and other medications so they might be beneficial to use in conjuncture with the existing medical treatment.
There is interest and some positive potential in developing a vaccine for H. Pylori although it seems like it won’t be available in the near future. Since it usually affects children, parents need to get educated around this bacteria and notice if their child starts developing symptoms. Granted, kids can get stomachaches for a variety of different reasons that don’t have to be in any way connected to H. Pylori, but it’s still important to get them checked to nip the potential infection in the bud.
Helicobacter Pylori is a very common bacteria that infects the stomach and the beginning of the small intestine by attaching to the mucus lining and spreading until it creates severe damage. Since the symptoms are rarely experienced, it can lead to serious diseases and even cancers before you realize you’re even infected. That’s why it’s crucial to get checked out at the very first chance of feeling symptoms and prevent this bacteria from causing what could be irreparable damage and long and gruesome journey to healing.
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