Is There Really A Bacteria In My Stomach?

Since our stomach makes so much acid, how can bacteria live and grow there? Most bacteria are killed by a combination of stomach acid and digestive juices. However the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori can grow and even thrive in the human stomach. This organism has adapted well to its environment. It lives within the naturally occurring protective mucous layer so that it is protected from acid and digestive juices. From this position, it makes stomach lining more vulnerable to inflammation and ulceration.

In the past, we used to believe gastritis and ulcers were due to too much acid. We also thought stress caused more acid and therefore more ulcers. Now with more understanding, we know the bacteria H Pylori disrupts the naturally protective functions of our stomach lining and predispose us to ulcers. Aspirin and arthritis medications can cause the same type of problems.

Surprisingly many people have the bacteria and have no problems; we do not fully understand why the bacterium causes more problems in some people than others. Most people actually become infected as children when our immune systems are less developed. New infections are less common in adults. The infection is more common in undeveloped countries where modern sewage treatment and clean water may be less available.

There is a blood test, which is frequently done to detect the bacteria, but it, actually is fairly unreliable in confirming an active infection. More accurate techniques include an endoscopic exam of the stomach with biopsy of the stomach lining (which includes the advantage of also diagnosing other gastric problems). We can also examine a stool specimen to diagnose H. Pylori and a H. Pylori breath test.

Symptoms of H. Pylori involvement in the stomach include upper abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, gaseousness and bloating. Long-term infection with this bacteria may cause an increase risk of gastric cancer, so when the bacteria is detected, treatment is recommended. Unfortunately the bacterium lives deep in the lining of the stomach and can be difficult to eradicate. Combinations of antibiotics and antiulcer regimens are required to treat the bacteria. No single treatment regimen is uniformly successful, so checking for clearance of the bacteria is frequently advised after completion of the treatment.

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