Why is there suddenly so much talk about Helicobacter pylori and many people taking tests to find out if they have this bacteria? «Because everything related to the digestive issue (bacterial overgrowth, microbiota, gluten-free, lactose-free diets…) has become very fashionable and everyone asks to take the tests as if that were the definitive solution to their stomach problems. And it is not like that.
This bacteria is well known in Medicine. In fact, it is one of the most common human pathogens. It can be said that approximately a little more than half of the world’s population is infected, a percentage that shoots up to 80% in less developed countries,” explains Dr. María del Mar Calvo, a specialist in the digestive system at the Igualatorio Médico Quirúrgico ( IMQ), before delving into the causes, symptoms and treatment of a bacteria that has become one of the most typed searches in health for some time now.
How do we get infected?
Helicobacter pylori, discovered in a gastric biopsy culture in 1983, is a bacteria that is present in the stomach of more or less half of the Spanish population and affects both sexes equally. “The first contact with the bacteria is usually in childhood: it is very rare for the first infection to be as an adult,” confirms the Spanish Digestive System Foundation. While in developed countries contagion between people is usually oral in the family environment, in societies with worse sanitary conditions the main source of Helicobacter pylori infection is contaminated water.
What are the symptoms?
Although the infection “rarely resolves spontaneously and usually persists throughout life, only a small percentage of infected patients – between 10 and 25% – develop symptoms,” the specialists say. What has been shown is that “infection by this bacteria is involved in 95% of cases of duodenal ulcers and has a very high presence in stomach cancer, but this does not mean that having Helicobacter pylori means that we are going to develop a gastric tumor. Many other circumstances have to occur,” reassures Dr. Calvo, co-founder of the Basque Digestive System Center.
Patients who develop symptoms usually suffer from lack of appetite to abdominal bloating, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, heavy digestion…
How can we know if we are infected? «Because we are looking for the bacteria. And it can be done through different methods. One of the most common is the breath test, which allows the pathogen to be identified by analyzing the air expelled after taking a urea pill. Whether the patient is infected can also be determined with a stool test or a gastric biopsy. Another option is the serological test (blood analysis), “although in this case the test can only tell us if the patient has been in contact with the bacteria, but does not specify if the infection is active,” recalls Dr. Calvo.
«Taking tests to detect this pathogen without a medical prescription can delay the diagnosis and further stress the patient»
Now, is it a good idea to take thousands of tests when we have digestive problems? «It is a good idea as long as we are evaluated by a specialist first, because performing uncontrolled tests can delay the diagnosis and stress the patient even more. Nowadays we have a lot of information and by paying we can do practically anything, but we must do it wisely… and with a doctor’s prescription. The tests have an order and for that order it is essential that a specialist evaluate us first,” they advise at Laboratorios Axpe.
«The bacteria lives in a very acidic environment and the treatment is always antibiotics. As the pathogen generates more and more resistance, therapies must last between 10 and 14 days at least to be successful. Three antibiotics and a protector are usually prescribed,” explains the Igualatorio specialist.
Balanced diet… and no tobacco
«People infected with Helicobacter pylori do not need any type of dietary restriction. The idea is to eat in a varied and balanced way and only exclude foods that the person considers bad for them. Of course, it is very important to avoid tobacco,” they advise at the Spanish Digestive System Foundation.
Avoid large meals:
Eat in moderate amounts and several times a day, divided into 5 or 6 meals (breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, snack, dinner and something before going to bed).
and in a quiet environment. Chew well.
half an hour after main meals.
Drink water in small amounts:
do it 30 or 60 minutes before or after meals. Avoid orange and tomato juices and carbonated drinks
boiled, in its juice, grilled, steamed, oven… Try not to eat fried, battered, breaded, sauces, stews and all preparations that contain extra fats and oil.
They can cause gas. To avoid them, change the cooking water once they have boiled for 10 minutes and grind them to improve digestion.
use salt and spices sparingly.
avoid coffee, tea, cola, alcohol, chocolate…