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Helicobacter pylori, why is everyone talking about it?
Health

Helicobacter pylori, why is everyone talking about it?

Half the population has this bacteria in their gut but only a few develop symptoms

Carmen Barreira

Madrid

Friday, 8 December 2023, 12:54

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Why is there suddenly so much talk about H. pylori and lots of people taking tests to find out if they have these bacteria? “Because everything related to any digestive issues (bacterial overgrowth, microbiota (micro-organisms living inside us), gluten-free and lactose-free diets...) has become very fashionable and everyone asks to undergo these tests as though they were the definitive solution to their stomach problems. But it is not like that.

Well known

This bacterium is well known in medicine. In fact, it is one of the most common pathogens known to man. It can be said that approximately just over half the world’s population is infected, a percentage that shoots up to 80% in less developed countries,” explains Dr María del Mar Calvo, a gastroenterologist at IMQ, a private healthcare company in Spain. Let us now delve into the causes, symptoms and treatment of a bacterium that has become one of the most typed, health-related search terms for some time now.

How do we catch the infection?

Helicobacter pylori, discovered in a gastric biopsy culture in 1983, is a type of bacteria present in the stomachs of about half the population of Spain and affects both sexes equally. “First contact with the bacteria is usually in childhood. It is very rare for first infection to occur in adulthood,” as confirmed by the Spanish Foundation of Gastroenterology. In developed nations, contagion between people usually happens orally, within the family environment. In countries with poorer sanitary conditions, the main source of H. pylori infection is contaminated water.

What are the symptoms?

Patients who develop symptoms usually suffer from a lack of appetite to bloating, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and slow, heavy digestion

Diagnosing the condition

“Because we look 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 analysing the breath expelled after taking a urea tablet. Whether the patient is infected can also be determined with a stool test or a gastric biopsy.

Another option is a serology test (blood analysis of antibodies), although in this case the test can only tell us if the patient has been in contact with the bacteria, but it does not show if the infection is active,” says Dr Calvo.

“Getting tested for this pathogen without referral can delay diagnosis and cause the patient further stress.”

Treatment

“The bacteria live in a very acidic environment and treatment is always antibiotic in nature. As the pathogen generates more and more resistance, treatment must last between at least 10 to 14 days to be successful. Three different antibiotics and a stomach protector are usually prescribed,” explains the IMQ specialist.

WHAT SHOULD I EAT?

A balanced diet is recommended and definitely no smoking.

Nutritional recommendations: “People infected with H. pylori do not need any type of restricted diet.

The idea is to eat in a varied and balanced way and only exclude foods that don’t agree with that person. Of course, it is very important to avoid tobacco,” was the advice from the Spanish Foundation of Gastroenterology.

Avoid large meals: Eat in moderation, dividing the day into 5 or 6 meals (breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and something before going to bed).

Eat slowly: and be somewhere calm. Chew your food thoroughly.

Sit down for a rest: for 30 minutes after each main meal.

Drink water in small quantities: drink 30 or 60 minutes before or after eating. Avoid orange and tomato juice as well as fizzy drinks.

Cook simple food: preferably boiled, steamed, on the griddle or baked in its own juices... Try not to eat fried, battered, breaded, or dishes prepared with rich sauces or stewed with lots of fats, oils and grease.

Beans and pulses: these can cause lots of wind. To eliminate that problem, change the water in the pan after 10 minutes on the boil, then puree them in a blender to aid digestion.

Seasonings: use salt and spices in moderation.

Stimulating foods: avoid coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks, alcohol, chocolate...

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