What is Helicobacter pylori?
Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) is a cork-screw shaped bacteria that lives in the mucus coating the lining of the stomach and duodenum. It can irritate the lining of the stomach causing inflammation and is a major causative factor in stomach and duodenal ulcers, gastric cancer and other forms of gastritis. H.pylori infections are believed to be caused by swallowing bacteria in food or liquids, or from unclean utensils. It can also pass from one person to the next, therefore the partner of the person infected by H.pylori should consider being tested.
What are the symptoms?
Some H.pylori infections are ‘silent’ and produce no symptoms, but when they do cause symptoms they are usually symptoms of gastritis or stomach ulcers. Typical symptoms of gastritis include vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain. Stomach ulcers are very similar to mouth ulcers where raw, sensitive patches develop on the lining of the stomach and cause a gnawing or burning pain. The pain can last for minutes or hours and will often feel worse on an empty stomach. Many people assume they have heartburn, as antacid medicine will often relieve the symptoms.
Testing for Helicobacter pylori
While an endoscopy is the traditional method of detecting the presence of H.pylori, the distribution of the organism is patchy within the gut lining and can be missed. It is now possible to detect H.pylori antibodies in the blood and is an inexpensive and non-invasive alternative to endoscopy.
How does the blood test work?
The Helicobacter pylori Screen analyses a pin-prick amount of blood to detect antibodies to H.pylori. Most patients with H.pylori infections exhibit a strong immune response and the test is sensitive enough to detect an infection, and also to monitor treatment as decreasing levels of H.pylori antibodies is good evidence of successful eradication therapy.
How do you treat a H.pylori infection?
You should discuss your results and symptoms with your healthcare professional. If your results indicate an infection then your GP will probably prescribe eradication therapy that usually includes taking a course of several tablets, including antibiotics, for 7 – 28 days. Eradication of a H.pylori infection usually results in a permanent cure for most stomach or duodenal ulcers.
Sample requirements and test turnaround
Only a pin-prick blood sample is required. Results are available within 10 working days.