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Helicobacter pylori is associated with many diseases. In this article we will explore the effect and consequences of Helicobacter pylori it has on human body.

What is Helicobacter pylori?

Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium that has helical shape (hence the name helicobacter). Helicobacter bacteria are the only known microorganisms that can thrive in the highly acidic environment of the stomach. Helicobacter pylori infects the mucus lining of the stomach and duodenum, and it is is thought to have evolved to penetrate and colonize the mucus lining. Helicobacter pylori is associated with many gastrointestinal diseases. Namely, many cases of peptic ulcers, gastritis, and duodenal ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori infection.    
Helicobacter pylori infection may be symptomatic or asymptomatic. Asymptomatic means without visible ill effects, and it is estimated that up to 70% of infection is asymptomatic. In patients who are asymptomatic, treatment is usually not recommended.

The bacteria has been isolated from feces, saliva and dental plaque of infected patients, which suggests gastro-oral or fecal-oral as possible transmission routes.

Diseases Associated with Helicobacter pylori

  • Gastric (stomach) ulcers
  • Duodenal ulcers
  • Stomach Cancer
  • Non-ulcer dyspepsia
  • Weird Syndromes (associated with acne rosacea, gulf veterans syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic halitosis) 

Duodenal peptic ulcers

Duodenal peptic ulcers occur one or two inches past the end of the stomach, which is in the first part of the intestine. Generally speaking- peptic ulcers are ulcers in the stomach or as name states- duodenum. Most duodenal ulcers occur in patients with Helicobacter pylori infection.
Duodenal ulcers can be treated wit drugs, such as Tagamet, Zantac, or Pepcid, but as soon as patient stops taking drugs, ulcers return, thus this treatment is most often ineffective.    
However, it has been proven that killing Helicobacter pylori, many patients with duodenal ulcer can be cured: treatment is most successful in patients under 50, but also older. The success rate is 80%.
Gastric (stomach) ulcers

Gastric (stomach) ulcers have two causes: one cause is Helicobacter pylori infection of the stomach, which represents more than 70% of cases, while second cause represent corrosive effects of Aspirin type medications, and non-steroidal anti-inflammotory drugs.
It is expected that stomach ulcers should behave similarly as duodenal ulcers so that after eradicating the Helicobacter gastric (stomach) ulcers should not recur, but this is not the case. Stomach ulcers are more complicated than duodenal ulcers, but the success rate is still rather high, which is  70-90% if Helicobacter pylori is eradicated.

Non-Ulcer Dyspepsia

Non-ulcer dyspepsia means patients that do not have ulcer disease, but do suffer from vomiting and nausea. The role of Helicobacter pylori has not been proven in non-ulcer dyspepsia patients, thus other diagnosis are assumed first. However, if other diagnosis are not obvious, trial of anti- helicobacter pylori therapy is considered.   Some patients response immediately, while others after several months.

Stomach Cancer

In 70-90% stomach cancers are associated with Helicobacter pylori. In an extensive review of gastric cancer and Helicobacter pylori the Eurogast Study Group determined that presence of Helicobacter pylori confers an approxi-mately six fold risk of gastric cancer, accounting for about half of all gastric cancers.  
Supposedly, chronic gastritis leads to intestinal metaplasia (atrophic gastritis) which then undergoes malignant change. What is interesting here is that in the final stage Helicobacter pylori may no longer be detected on biopsy but immunologic studies may show evidence of past infection.
Also, etrospective biopsy studies show that 90% of MALT (Mucosa Associated Lymphoid Tissue) lymphomas are associated with Helicobacter pylori.
However, do not get easily scared! Remember that about 30% of people in America have Helicobacter pylori, but feel fine. If you do suffer from  Helicobacter pylori, your risk of developing cancer is only about one in 5,000, nevertheless the risk of developing peptic ulcer is higher.

Helicobacter pylori and weird syndromes

There are several conditions which might be caused or worsened by Helicobacter pylori:
acne rosacea is a red skin rash on the face and it may respond to therapy.
In Gulf Veterans Syndrome and  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome well being and energy levels are improved if  Helicobacter pylori is treated
patients with chronic halitosis respond to treatment for Helicobacter pylori.

Read More: Helicobacter pylori: The Bacteria that Cause Ulcers


What should we ask ourselves in future?

To sum up, it is estimated that about two thirds of world population is infected by the bacterium, which makes Helicobacter pylori the most widespread infection in the world. Of course, the infection rate is much higher in Third world, which is due to poor sanitary conditions, while the bacterium represents “only” 25% for the West world (Western Europe, North America, Australia). Besides, in North America, Helicobacter pylori infection is   
spread primarily in the older generations - about 50% for those over the age of 60 compared with 20% under 40 years, and most among the poorest, which is largely attributed to higher hygiene standards and widespread use of antibiotics.
A variety of questions regarding Helicobacter pylori need to be addressed by future research, for example further investigations are needed on the relationship between Helicobacter pylori and gastric cancer. Especially, the mechanism of the interaction between Helicobacter pylori infection and host genetic factors and dietary factors that lead to the cancer need to be revealed. We also need to know whether Helicobacter pylori infection may be beneficial in certain circumstances and whether eradicating the infection may be disadvantageous to some subjects.