Helicobacter Pylori (H. pylori) Overview
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a type of bacteria responsible for widespread infection with more than 50% of the world's population infected, even though
most of those infected have no symptoms. H. pylori infection is associated with low grade inflammation of the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine that empties the stomach).
The bacteria has evolved to survive in the acidic environment of the stomach where enzymes digest food. The H. pylori bacteria burrow into the cells of the stomach lining and cause low grade inflammation. H. pylori is the most common cause of gastric ulcers and gastritis (gastro=stomach +itis=inflammation). Ten percent of those infected may develop an ulcer. Also, those infected have an increased risk of stomach cancer and lymphoma.
Interestingly, the presence of the bacteria may decrease the prevalence of esophagitis by decreasing the amount of stomach acid that refluxes back into the esophagus. This in turn leads to a decreased risk for esophageal cancer in those infected with H. pylori. Further, H. pylori seems to decrease the risk of developing asthma and allergies.
H. pylori bacteria is found most frequently in underdeveloped countries; but with improved economic conditions, the rate of infection in the population decreases. The infection rate in the United States is between 20%-30%, however, it is higher in Hispanics, African Americans, and the elderly.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/4/2014
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