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Gastrointestinal Disorders Resulting from Bacterial Infections

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • pylori is a type of bacteria that can cause gastritis. The bacteria latches onto stomach lining and produces an alkaline substance to protect itself. Additionally, this bacteria may be present in a patient’s gut for decades without any symptoms being displayed.
  • Prolonged chronic gastritis could lead to a peptic ulcer or an intestinal ulcer, while also increasing the risk of stomach cancer.
  • If you suffer from stomach pain, indigestion and feeling bloated after meals, as well as other symptoms similar to gastritis which returns every 2-3 weeks even when treated with medication, an appointment with your doctor should be made to find out whether or not any H. pylori bacteria is present.

Stomach pain, indigestion and feeling bloated after meals may not be entirely down to the usual stomach disorders people tend to suffer from. There is now a type of screening which can help to identify chronic stomach disorders that are otherwise incurable and which also have the potential to develop into stomach cancer.

Understanding the H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori) bacteria

Many forms of bacteria found in tropical regions can enter the gastrointestinal system through food and beverages which have been contaminated due to not being prepared or cooked properly. In addition to the risk posed by unsanitary drinking water, it is also possible that unclean hands and utensils that have not been sanitized can contaminate food during the preparation and cooking process.

Generally, the stomach produces acids which attack the bacteria found in contaminated food. For the most part, bacteria that isn’t too harmful will be destroyed by these acids while some other forms of bacteria are incapable of surviving inside the stomach. However, the H. pylori bacteria is special in this sense because it is able to latch onto the stomach lining and begin producing an alkaline substance to protect itself against the stomach acid. The H. pylori bacteria can hide between the stomach lining cells, meaning that it can survive for decades without any symptoms being displayed.

Additionally, if patients suffer from acute infections or the bacteria enters the stomach in great quantities, they will experience symptoms similar to gastritis, including fever, nausea and vomiting for a while, before the symptoms disappear by themselves. Such symptoms come about as a result of the body’s attempt to reduce inflammation. However, the bacteria itself has not been destroyed. It is merely hiding in the lining of the stomach. Moreover, people who become infected with a minimal amount of the bacteria may not experience any symptoms whatsoever. The bacteria will just bury itself in the stomach lining indefinitely, creating alkalinity in increasing amounts, until which point that the patient develops chronic gastritis that may or may not display any symptoms.

When a person suffers from prolonged, chronic gastritis, the stomach lining will begin to deteriorate, weakening the stomach lining strength, which can negatively affect the gastritis and cause peptic or intestinal ulcers to occur, eventually leading to an increased risk of stomach cancer. If patients have taken antacid medication over a period of around two years and the disorder has returned around 70-80% of the time, an appointment with a doctor should be made to undergo H. pylori screening. This is essential because when the bacteria is found and treated, the chance of stomach ulcers making a return is reduced to just 4-7%.

Symptoms

Most of those infected do not tend to display any symptoms, but they are more likely to visit their doctor with chronic stomach complaints, such as stomach pain, indigestion and feeling bloated after meals. These are all also symptoms of chronic gastritis or stomach disorders which tend to go away upon treatment and return soon after. If such symptoms come and go for a period of 2-3 weeks, a doctor’s appointment should be made to undergo H. pylori screening.

Risk factors affecting the chance of contracting the H. pylori bacteria

People of any age or gender are at risk of contracting H. pylori bacterial infections, which may or may not display symptoms. The following are factors considered to increase a person’s risk:

  • Eating raw foods, foods that are undercooked or fermented products, as well as regularly eating fresh vegetables
  • Drinking unsanitary drinking water
  • Eating food that has been prepared with equipment that has not been properly sanitized
  • Residing with or eating alongside someone with an existing H. pylori infection, as the virus can be transferred via saliva and contaminated objects

Diagnosing H. pylori infections

  • Endoscopic inspections: Removing a tissue sample from the person’s gastrointestinal system through the use of a tiny endoscopic tube, which is inserted into the person’s mouth to identify ulcers and assess the state of the stomach. Tissue samples will be sent to a laboratory for further analysis.
  • Feces inspection: The patient’s stool should be analyzed within four hours of the bowel movement to identify any traces of the bacteria or proteins present in the bacteria. This diagnosis has an accuracy rating of 98%.
  • Breath test: Due to the H. pylori bacteria being capable of changing urea into ammonia, doctors will ask the patient to consume an amount of urea before carrying out a breath test to identify the ammonia levels present. The results will then be compared to a normal person’s ammonia levels and, if increased ammonia levels are identified, it proves that the H. pylori virus is present within the patient’s gastrointestinal system. This procedure is also highly accurate.

When undergoing a feces inspection or breath test, patients are required to halt antacids for a period of 7-10 days prior to the examination. Alternatively, patients on any type of antibiotics should wait for a period of four weeks prior to the examination before undergoing any assessments. This is because any medications present on the body may affect the test results.

Treatment

When a patient is diagnosed with the H. pylori bacterial infection, doctors will prescribe a specially designed course of antibiotics due to the high chance of the bacteria present being resistant to the numerous other forms of antibiotics available. 2-3 types of medication will be prescribed, with some cases requiring additional antacids or bismuth drugs.

The prescribed medication should be taken continuously for a period of between five days to 1-2 weeks, depending on the type of drug and its suitability for each individual case. Furthermore, in cases where patients are living with another infected person or regularly share meals with persons, those persons should attend screening in case they require treatment.

While rates of H. pylori infection in Thailand have dropped dramatically from the previous levels of over 50% of the population, it still currently affects around 35%. Although the infection itself is not particularly dangerous during its early stages, the bacteria can develop and lead to chronic gastritis if left untreated, with the potential to eventually cause stomach cancer.

If you begin suffering from stomach pain and soreness, alongside indigestion that will not go away even after targeted treatment, you should make a doctor’s appointment to undergo H. pylori screening and receive treatment to eradicate the infection. This is especially important for people who are at a greater risk due to their dietary choices, which may include fermented products, raw food, rare meat or fresh uncooked vegetables.


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