PLEASE NOTE THIS TEST IS BEING DISCONTINUED AT THE END OF APRIL
What is Helicobacter pylori?
Helicobacter pylori (H. Pylori ) is a bacterium, a kind of germ, which lives in the sticky mucus that lines the stomach. About 40% of people in the UK have H. pylori in their stomach so it is very common. In nearly nine out of 10 people who have H. pylori, it does not cause any problems.
How do people get it and can they pass it on?
People who do have H. pylori almost always catch it in childhood, probably from other children or family members. Once someone picks up H. pylori, it stays in the stomach throughout life unless it is treated with particular antibiotics. H. pylori is actually becoming less common and nowadays it is unusual for children to catch it, even if someone else in the family has it. People living in the UK today who have H. pylori are unlikely to pass it on and do not need to take any special measures to avoid giving it to others.
What problems can H. pylori cause?
About 15% of people with H. pylori infection get ulcers either in the stomach (gastric ulcer) or in the duodenum (duodenal ulcer). Although ulcers tend to cause indigestion, occasionally they become much more serious as they can bleed or even burst (perforate) which happens if the ulcer burrows deep enough actually to make a hole. People with ulcers should therefore be treated with the aim of getting rid of H. pylori.
Bad indigestion is common and there are many other reasons why people get this symptom other than having ulcers. Because there are millions of people who have both H. pylori and indigestion, it can be tempting to draw the conclusion that one leads to the other.
How do you test for H. pylori?
The easiest way is by a blood test. A sample is sent to the laboratory and tested for IgA antibodies to H. pylori. Doctors can also test for H. pylori while patients are having an endoscopy. A very small piece of the lining of the stomach (a biopsy) is sent to the laboratory for a number of different tests to check whether or not H. pylori is present in the stomach.
How can H. pylori be treated and what are the chances of success?
Treatment for H. pylori is now simple and successful at the first attempt in most people. It consists of a one week course of three different tablets, two of which are antibiotics and the third is a tablet to cut down the amount of acid in your stomach called a proton pump inhibitor, like pantoprazole, omeprazole. These are all taken together twice a day. Your doctor will ask you whether you are allergic to any particular antibiotics before treatment is started.