A Definition and Review of H. Pylori (Helicobacter Pylori)

Learn the role it plays in ulcer formation and chronic gastritis

Interior Of A Chemists Shop
Universal Images Group/Getty

If you or a loved one suffers from ulcers or has a family history of them, you'll want to know what H. pylori (helicobacter pylori) is and the role it plays in the human body. With this review of the organism, find out how H. pylori puts one at risk for painful medical conditions.

What Is H. Pylori? 

H. Pylori is a bacteria responsible for most ulcers (gastric and duodenal) and many cases of chronic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach).

This bacteria can weaken the protective coating of the stomach and duodenum (first part of the small intestines), allowing digestive juices to irritate their sensitive linings and produce inflammation. 

The presence of the bacteria can lead to the development of some types of stomach or gastric cancers.

While H. Pylori sounds scary, the fact is that many people have this bacteria in their stomachs but don't go on to develop ulcers, gastritis or cancer. So, what puts one at risk? Coffee, alcohol and smoking have been associated with an increased risk for an ulcer from H. pylori.

Debunking Myths About Ulcer Causes

Despite popular belief, spicy foods and stress don't cause ulcers. Although some people feel that these worsen the pain of an ulcer, the foods you eat or the stress you experience won't cause an ulcer.

In fact, genetics appears to play a role, with some estimates indicating that 25 percent of ulcer patients have a family history of the condition.

Other research indicates that people with a family history of ulcers are three times more likely to develop ulcers than the general public is. So, don't let uninformed people make you feel guilty over lifestyle habits that played no role in the formation of your ulcer.

Some lifestyle choices, however, can increase your odds of developing ulcers.

In addition to smoking, longtime use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen can put one at risk; so can alcohol use.

Having preexisting medical conditions such as liver, kidney, or lung disease can lead to ulcers. A gastrinoma, a tumor of the stomach's acid producing cells, can also put one at risk for ulcers by increasing how much acid the body makes.This condition is known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. 

Women may also be more likely to get ulcers than men. 

Symptoms of Ulcers

Symptoms of ulcers run the gamut. While some people have no signs at all. Others may feel bloated or a burning sensation in their belly. Heartburn and nausea are common symptoms as well. In severe cases, patients may have blood in their stool, agonizing pain or weight loss.

Ulcer Treatment

If your doctor suspects you have a peptic ulcer, she will likely order a test to check for the H. pylori bacteria before prescribing treatment. Most doctors today routinely check for the bacteria.

If they don't discover it with a a blood test or a breath test, they can obtain a sample during an upper endoscopy. During this procedure, a  tube is placed in the throat and travels to the stomach in search of problems.

Doctors also commonly treat H. pylori by prescribing patients antibiotics and antacids. Endoscopy is often reserved for patients with severe side effects from ulcers.


"H. pylori and Peptic Ulcer." NIH Publication No. 05–4225 October 2004. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).

William D. Chey, M.D., F.A.C.G., A.G.A.F., F.A.C.P., Benjamin C.Y. Wong, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.G., F.A.C.P., "American College of Gastroenterology Guideline on the Management of Helicobacter pylori Infection." doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2007.01393.x. American College of Gastroenterology.

Continue Reading