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H. pylori is a spiral-shaped bacterium found in the stomach, which (along with acid secretion) damages stomach and duodenal tissue, causing inflammation and peptic ulcers. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), H. pylori causes most all of the ulcers. The NIDDK estimates that about 20 percent of people under 40 years old and half of those over 60 have it.
It is believed that H. pylori's shape and characteristics cause the damage that leads to ulcers.
Because of their shape and the way they move, the bacteria can penetrate the stomach's protective mucous lining where they produce the enzyme urease, which generates substances that neutralize the stomach's acids. This weakens the stomach's protective mucus, makes the stomach cells more susceptible to the damaging effects of acid and pepsin, and leads to sores or ulcers in the stomach or duodenum (first part of the small intestine).
The bacteria can also attach to stomach cells, further weakening the stomach's defensive mechanisms and producing local inflammation. For reasons not completely understood, H. pylori can also stimulate the stomach to produce more acid.
The following are the most common symptoms of ulcers. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.
Soon after being infected with H. pylori, most people develop gastritis - an inflammation of the stomach lining. However, most people will never have symptoms or problems related to the infection. When symptoms are present, they may include:
The symptoms of ulcers may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Researchers do not yet know what causes certain people to develop H. pylori-related symptoms or ulcers. It is believed that H. pylori is transmitted orally from person to person through close contact (kissing) or through fecal-oral contact.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for H. pylori may include the following:
Specific treatment for H. pylori ulcers will be determined by your physician based on:
Treatment may include: