American Gastroenterological Association: Helicobacter pylori

Helicobacter pylori

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the scientific name of a bacteria that lives on or in the lining of the stomach. H. pylori was discovered about ten years ago. Since that time, it has been learned that the H. pylori bacteria can cause inflammation of the stomach lining, called gastritis.

H. pylori infection may result in ulcers in the stomach and/or the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). An ulcer is a sore or wound in the lining of the stomach or the duodenum, which may cause pain or bleeding.

How Do I Get H. pylori?

Doctors do not know for certain how H. pylori is spread, although it is usually acquired in childhood. However, with improved sanitation practices and standards of living, children in the United States today have fewer H. pylori infections. There is no reason to suggest that people with H. pylori should be isolated from others in any way.

How Can I Find Out If I Have H. pylori?

There are several ways to diagnose H. pylori:

* Blood test

* Breath test

* Endoscopy and biopsy

* Blood testing can be done to look for the presence of antibodies to the H. pylori bacteria. Antibodies are part of the immune system and help the body fight harmful infections.

* A simple breath test called the urea breath test will show if H. pylori is present.

* Endoscopy is a procedure done in the doctor’s office or outpatient facility. Practices will vary from doctor to doctor. The doctor will try to keep the patient comfortable while performing the procedure. The doctor will pass a small, flexible tube into the patient’s mouth, into the esophagus, stomach and intestine to look for disease. The doctor can take a biopsy, small tissue sample, through the endoscope. This tissue can be studied under a microscope to see if H. pylori gastritis is present.

Can H. pylori Infection Be Cured?

H. pylori burrow beneath the protective coating of the digestive tract, and the location where they live helps protect them. The bacteria does not go away on its own. To cure the infection, your doctor will give you a treatment program.

Your doctor will give you information about the specific actions and side effects of your treatment program. Follow your treatment plan exactly as directed for the best results.

Will Elimination Of An H. pylori Infection Improve My Health?

For most people with H. pylori infection, elimination of the infection may have no noticeable effect on your health or sense of well-being. H. pylori inflammation usually does not cause any symptoms. However, for those patients who have or have had a duo-denal or stomach ulcer in the past, successful elimination of the bacteria can reduce the risk of ulcer recurrence.

What Can We Expect In The Future?

Eventually, we will understand how H. pylori is spread and how to prevent this infection.


Antibodies – Part of the immune system that fights disease.

Bacteria – Germ that causes human disease.

Duodenum – First part of the small intestine.

Endoscopy – Procedure done in the doctor’s office or outpatient facility. The endoscope is a small flexible tube that is passed through the mouth, down the esophagus, into the stomach and duodenum. The doctor can look through the endoscope to determine the presence of disease.

Esophagus – Tube-like organ leading from the mouth to the stomach.

Gastritis – Inflammation of the stomach lining.

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) – The name of a bacteria that causes disease (gastritis and ulcers)in humans.

Inflammation – A response to tissue injury that can cause redness, swelling, and pain.

Stomach – A sack-like organ that connects the esophagus to the small intestine. It receives the swallowed food and secretes juices high in acid to break down the food.

Ulcer – A sore or a wound in the lining of the stomach or duodenum.

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This brochure is part of the Patient Wellness Series produced by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) and funded by an educational grant from Glaxo Wellcome Institute for Digestive Health. For more information regarding your digestive health, visit the AGA Digestive Health Resource Center at

COPYRIGHT 1999 American Gastroenterological Association

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