Common bacteria cause stomach ulcers in some people

As the name suggests, Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori is a type of bacteria that can enter the body and live in your digestive system. It is very common (approximately two-thirds of people in the world have it) and in many cases, it causes no symptoms or health problems. In some people, however, the bacteria attack the lining of the stomach, which protects us from acidic digestive juices. This may lead to peptic ulcers and gastritis, and may increase your risk for stomach cancer.

While H. pylori is more common in countries where people have little access to clean water and food sources, it is also more common in certain populations in the United States, including older adults, African American and Hispanic people, and those living in crowded conditions. You can be infected via food, water or utensils, as well as from saliva or other body fluids of infected people.

Symptoms and diagnosis of H. pylori and stomach ulcers

The bacteria themselves do not cause symptoms as many people live with the infection for many years without noticing anything. If the H. pylori cause an ulcer, however, you may notice symptoms such as gnawing or burning pain in the upper abdomen (above the stomach). Less commonly, you may have:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Bleeding
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bad breath
  • Burping or bloating

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you are concerned about symptoms you are having or you are at risk of infection with the H. pylori bacteria. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and review of your medical history and may also recommend certain testing, such as:

Treatment for Helicobacter pylori often includes preventive approaches, such as extra care washing hands and preparing food, to ensure no further infection, along with acid-reducing medications to protect your stomach lining and antibiotics to treat the infection.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.