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Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital offers a wide range of diagnostic procedures and treatment options for infection with helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), focusing on each patient’s individual needs and aiming at enhancing their quality of life. Since a severe infection with H. pylori is typically associated with conditions such as peptic ulcer and gastritis, the highly skilled specialists at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital can also provide their patients with the most suitable treatment regimen for such medical issues.
H. pylori is a type of bacteria commonly found in the digestive system of humans and animals. It has been estimated that more than 50% of the entire population carries this bacteria within their bodies. H. pylori does not generally have any negative effect on the gastrointestinal tract. Nevertheless, in severe cases of infection, it may attack the inner stomach or intestinal lining, producing breaks on its surface, which could develop into ulcers. H. pylori bacteria is spiral-shaped; most infected people typically come into contact with it at some point during their childhood.
The acidic environment of the stomach is a very favorable place for H. pylori to grow, as this form of bacteria is naturally adapted to such harsh conditions. Moreover, this bacteria is able to interfere with the level of acidity in the stomach, often reducing it in order to have higher chances of survival. The spiral shape of H. pylori helps it penetrate the inner layer of the stomach or small intestine so that the body’s immune cells cannot reach them underneath the mucus layer. Thus, immune cells are unable to destroy H. pylori once it infiltrates the gastrointestinal lining.
Even though the presence of H. pylori within the digestive system is rarely signaled by specific symptoms, when serious infection occurs a series of complications can arise. Serious infection is always accompanied by intense and distressing symptoms that the patient cannot ignore. The following complications are often associated with H. pylori infection:
When an H. pylori infection is detected in the digestive system and does not cause any symptoms, treatment is usually not necessary unless the patient has a family history of peptic ulcers or stomach cancer. In this case, treatment may decrease the risk of developing these conditions in the future. If symptoms of severe infection are present, an H. pylori treatment regimen will typically consist of a combination of two antibiotics and one type of acid suppression medication. The most commonly prescribed medicine for H. pylori are proton-pump inhibitors (PPI), such as pantoprazole, esomeprazole, or rabeprazole, which help reduce the production of gastric acid by blocking the enzyme which secretes it. Antibiotics such as clarithromycin, metronidazole, tetracycline, and amoxicillin may also be prescribed. Sometimes, H2 blockers (ranitidine, cimetidine etc.) or bismuth subsalicylate may be recommended as well.
The duration of treatment for H. pylori is generally between one and two weeks, depending on the severity of the symptoms, as well as on the responsiveness of the infection. If H. pylori causes gastric or duodenal diseases, or very serious complications such as stomach cancer, treatment will be prescribed accordingly and for a longer duration.
Although a person does not generally notice any signs of infection with H. pylori when or after it occurs, there is a series of symptoms associated with more serious diseases and conditions caused by the bacteria, such as:
Certain symptoms of H. pylori infection, such as bloating, can be visible, but physical exams are not a sufficient means to properly diagnose it. Thus, one or more types of examination are required. The most common procedures and tests used to determine the presence of H. pylori within the digestive system are:
Endoscopic Biopsy: If the doctor observes any abnormal looking regions on the inner surface of the stomach during an endoscopy, they may collect a tissue sample for further examination. Subsequently, infection with H. pylori can be identified. This form of examination is usually very accurate and it can also be used to determine the presence of abnormal cells in the stomach lining.
Blood Tests: The accuracy level of blood tests in diagnosing infection with H. pylori is relatively low, but it can sometimes be used to determine the presence of antibodies in the bloodstream. Whenever there is an infection in the body, antibodies are released to counteract it. However, the results may often be ambiguous, and thus other types of tests are recommended for a more precise and accurate diagnosis.
Stool Tests: A stool antigen test can help detect the presence of H. pylori in the stomach lining. There is a type of foreign protein known as antigens, which are associated with H. pylori bacteria. If they are discovered during a stool test, they can be a clear indication of infection.
Urea Breath Test: For this test, the patient will be required to drink a liquid containing urea, a substance which will be turned into carbon dioxide if H. pylori is present in the digestive system. Abnormal levels of carbon dioxide detected in the breath sample can indicate H. pylori infection.
CT Scan/ MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Though not as commonly used as the previous methods, these tests can offer a detailed perspective of the patient’s internal organs. CT scans and MRIs can prove to be effective tools for identifying abnormal signs in the gastric or intestinal regions of the body.
H. pylori bacteria is usually contracted during childhood because most children lack proper hygiene habits. However, adults can also be infected with H. pylori later in life. The risk of contamination is increased by the following factors:
Living in a developing country: Since the living conditions in a developing country may often be unsanitary, the risk of being infected with H. pylori bacteria is higher. The prevalence of H. pylori infection is greatly determined by geographic area; while one-third of the population is estimated to carry the bacteria in North European and North American countries, more than 50% of southern and eastern European, South American, and Asian populations have been infected.
Drinking water from unreliable sources: Consumption of water from unsanitary sources can significantly increase the risk on contracting H. pylori, as this is one of the most common ways of transmission.
Crowded living conditions: Inhabiting a small space with numerous people, or living in an overpopulated country increases your risk of contracting H. pylori, as it is most commonly transmitted from person-to-person.
Living with a person who has been infected with H. pylori: Because the infection is often transmitted by other people, either directly or indirectly, living with someone who has it also increases the risk greatly.
Poor hygiene habits: Another way of becoming infected with the bacteria is contacting it from the immediate environment. Thus, if one lacks proper hygiene habits, such as regularly washing their hands before eating and after using the restroom, the chances of contamination increase.
There are multiple ways a person can become infected with H. pylori. Some of the most prevalent are:
The antibacterial properties of certain natural remedies have been proven to help patients recovering from H. pylori infections and speed up the healing process when they are administered in combination with prescribed medication. These are only a few of the numerous natural treatments available for H. pylori infection:
Since the environment plays a major role in H. pylori transmission, there are several ways to avoid coming in contact with the bacteria, despite its high prevalence all over the world:
Maintain good hygiene habits: One way a person can get infected with H. pylori is by indirect transmission. Thus, if they come in contact with food that has been prepared by someone who carries the bacteria, or with objects such as eating utensils that have been used by that person, their chances of contracting H. pylori increase. Washing your hands thoroughly before meals and after using the restroom is highly recommended. Similarly, you should avoid sharing eating utensils and glasses with other people.
Avoid unsanitary sources of water and food that has not been cooked thoroughly: Because H. pylori can often be found in water that comes from unreliable and unsanitary sources, as well as in food that has not been properly cooked, it is strongly suggested you verify these factors whenever possible.
Avoid physical contact with H. pylori-infected persons: In most cases, there is no certain way of knowing whether or not one carries the bacteria in their digestive system, since symptoms accompany only severe infections or gastric diseases. However, if you are aware someone has H. pylori, you should avoid or at least limit physical contact with them, as the bacteria can be transmitted person-to-person by saliva and other bodily fluids.
Maintain a healthy diet: Although there is no evidence that H. pylori infection can be aggravated by certain foods, it is recommended you consume a lot of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage etc.), particularly if you already have the infection. Additionally, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and spicy food, as well as smoking, can also promote a more rapid recovery process in case of H. pylori infection, peptic ulcers, and other gastrointestinal diseases or conditions.
Avoid crowded living conditions: If you live in a developing or overpopulated country, this may be very difficult to do. Nevertheless, it is recommended you avoid inhabiting the same space as a large number of people for prolonged periods of time to prevent H. pylori contamination.
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