Helicobacter pylori (“H. pylori”)- an all too common cancer-causing GI infection

You would think with all the acid in your stomach it would be an awful place for bacteria to live, but there’s one bacteria that LOVES it and commonly infects the stomach causing trouble - H. pylori. It’s worth dedicating a post to this bug because it is actually extremely common, and can cause all sorts of trouble such as inflammation (gastritis), peptic ulcer disease… and even cancer. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared H. pylori to be a group I human carcinogen for gastric adenocarcinoma and it is also a risk factor for gastric mucosa-associated lymphomas (MALT lymphomas). So it is extremely important we all know about H. pylori considering how common it is. Here’s are the facts:

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How common is it really, and who gets it??

·      H. pylori is THE MOST COMMON chronic bacterial infection in humans, found worldwide and in all ages

·      Conservative estimates suggest 50% of the world's population is affected

·      Infection is more frequent and acquired at an earlier age in developing countries with up to 80% infected before age 50

 Adapted from  Nature

Adapted from Nature

·      In the US, it is more common during adulthood: ~10% in ages 18-30 and 50% in people older than 60 years old

Is it contagious?

·      Probably! Experts believe there is person-to-person transmission of H. pylori through fecal/oral or oral/oral exposure. This is supported by clustering of infection within families- if your family member is positive, consider getting tested!

·      It’s in the water: Contaminated water in developing countries may serve as an environmental source of H. pylori- kids who swim in rivers, streams, pools, drink stream water, or eat uncooked vegetables are more likely to be infected.

Risk factors

·      Overcrowding especially densely populated housing, increased number of siblings, sharing a bed, lack of running water, poor childhood hygiene practice

Prevention

·      Improvement in sanitation

·      Avoid salted food, which increases the  possibility of persistent infection as well as has a synergistic interaction to increase the risk of gastric cancer

Talk to your gastroenterologist to get tested if you …

·      Have a history of or current peptic ulcer disease (PUD)

·      Suffer from abdominal symptoms (abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, early fullness, etc.)

·      Are planning to take daily aspirin or nonselective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs: ibuprofen, motrin, aleve, advil, etc.) to reduce the risk of ulcer bleeding

·      Have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia

·      Have a condition with low platelets called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)

Importantly, ALL patients with a positive test of active infection with H. pylori should be offered treatment!

Don’t let this cancer-causing bug go untreated!