H. Pylori Infection: Symptoms, Treatment & Natural Options

Clinical review: Tatiana Zanin
Registered Dietitian
March 2022

H. pylori, or Helicobacter pylori, is a type of bacteria that can lodge in the stomach or small intestine and eats away at the protective mucus lining. Without this lining, the stomach or intestinal tissue is exposed to acid every time you eat, causing inflammation and damage. Common symptoms include abdominal pain and burning. Having H. Pylori also increases the risk of developing ulcers and cancer.

This type of infection can be identified through an endoscopy, although the doctor may also opt to obtain a biopsy or perform a urease test during this procedure, which are other ways to confirm diagnosis.

Omeprazole, clarithromycin, and amoxicillin, are the main types of medication prescribed for the treatment of H. Pylori, but it is also important to follow a diet that is rich in vegetables and white meat to help to relieve symptoms. Sauces, seasonings, and processed foods should also be avoided. Learn more about what to eat and what to avoid when you have H. Pylori.

Main symptoms

It is very common to have an H. Pylori infection without presenting with any symptoms. However, since this type of bacteria gradually destroy the mucus lining that protects the inner walls of the stomach and intestine, some symptoms may appear over time. These include

  • Pain or burning sensation in the stomach;
  • Lack of appetite;
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting;
  • Very dark stools or stools with blood.

An H. pylori diagnosis is usually confirmed through a biopsy, with the collection of tissue from the stomach or duodenum. This sample can be tested for the presence of bacteria with a lab culture, urease test, or tissue evaluation. 

Other possible tests are the urea breath test, blood serology test, or fecal detection test.

How is it transmitted

H. pylori infection is fairly common; there is evidence that it can be transmitted through saliva or oral contact with water or food that has come into contact with contaminated feces, but its transmission has not yet been fully clarified.

So, to prevent this type infection, it is very important to follow careful hygiene practices, such as washing your hands before eating or after going to the bathroom, and avoiding the sharing of cutlery and cups with other people.

Treatment options

Treatment for H. Pylori infection is usually only indicated in the presence of some situations, such as:

  • Peptic ulcer;
  • Gastritis;
  • Intestinal carcinoma, or gastric lymphoma;
  • Symptoms, such as discomfort, burning or stomach pain;
  • Family history of gastric cancer.

Therefore, if the bacteria isn't causing any type of problem, chances are that treatment is not necessary. This is because the unnecessary use of antibiotics increases the chances of bacteria resistance and causes side effects. 

Medication to treat H. pylori

The most commonly prescribed medication to treat H. pylori infection is the combination of proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole, Ianzoprazole, pantoprazole, or rabeprazole, with antibiotics, usually clarithromycin 500mg, amoxicillin 1000mg, or metronidazole 500mg, which can be used separately or as a combination pill, such as Pyloripac.

This treatment should be done for a period of 7 - 14 days, twice a day, or as prescribed. This medication regimen must be followed strictly to avoid the development of drug resistant bacteria.

Other antibiotic options that can be used in cases of treatment-resistant infections are bismuth subsalicylate, tetracycline, tinidazole, or levofloxacin.

Natural treatment options

There are some natural alternatives you can use to complement your medical treatment. These may help to manage stomach symptoms and control the spread of bacteria, however they do not replace your prescribed treatment.

The consumption of zinc-rich foods such as oysters, meats, wheat germ, and whole grains, for example, help to strength the immune system, speed-up the healing of ulcers, and decrease stomach inflammation.

Food that can help eliminate bacteria in the stomach are natural yogurt (because it is rich in probiotics), or thyme and ginger, as these have antibacterial properties.

There are also foods that may help to control acidity and lessen the discomfort caused by gastritis, such as bananas and potatoes. 

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Atualizado por Tua Saude editing team, em March de 2022. Clinical review por Tatiana Zanin - Registered Dietitian, em March de 2022.

References

  • KAYALI, Stefano et al.. Helicobacter pylori, transmission routes and recurrence of infection: state of the art. Acta Biomédica. Vol.89. 72-76, 2018
  • NHS. Helicobacter Pylori: An information guide. 2021. Available on: <https://www.pat.nhs.uk/downloads/New%20NCA%20Leaflets/Gastroenterology/148%20-%20Helicobacter%20Pylori.pdf>. Access in 27 Dec 2021
Clinical review:
Tatiana Zanin
Registered Dietitian
Graduated in Clinical Nutrition in 2001 and has a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition. Licensed to practice under the CRN-3 in Brazil and the ON in Portugal