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H. pylori infection - What is H. pylori?

BMJ Group Medical Reference


Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori for short) is one of the bacteria (germs) that can live in your stomach. If you are infected with H. pylori you may get an ulcer or indigestion.

H. pylori infection is very common, but it doesn't always cause health problems. Some people with H. pylori may never know they have it. If you do have H. pylori infection, and it's causing an ulcer or giving you indigestion, you can have treatment that will get rid of these bacteria.

We've brought together the best research about H. pylori infection and weighed up the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.

If you've been diagnosed with H. pylori infection, it means that you have H. pylori bacteria (germs) in your stomach. You may have symptoms of indigestion, such as stomach cramps or bloating, or you may have been told that you have an ulcer.

Doctors discovered Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori for short) nearly 25 years ago. Before then, if you had an ulcer in your stomach, you might have been given treatment to help with your symptoms. But this treatment wouldn't have got rid of the ulcer that was causing your pain. Now, though, you can get rid of your symptoms for good by having treatment that kills H. pylori.

Key points for people with H. pylori infection

  • H. pylori infection is common.

  • Most people are infected with H. pylori in childhood. But because of better living standards these days, fewer children get infected now.

  • If you have H. pylori you're more likely to get indigestion or an ulcer.

  • Most people with H. pylori don't get any symptoms.

  • Besides H. pylori, some other things can cause indigestion too. These include eating too much food, eating spicy food, stress, hiatus hernia, taking aspirin, and drinking alcohol.

  • If your indigestion is caused by an ulcer, getting rid of H. pylori usually cures it.

Your digestive system

To understand why H. pylori can cause problems, it helps to know something about your digestive system (the part of your body that helps break down food).

When you eat, food passes from your mouth to your stomach down a tube called the oesophagus.digestive system-h pylori_default.jpg

Your stomach holds and breaks down the food you've eaten by producing chemicals. Your stomach has two parts.

  • The upper part produces the acid that your stomach needs to break down the food.

  • The lower part of the stomach produces other chemicals, called enzymes, which also help break down food.

When you see, smell, or taste food, your brain sends signals to your stomach. Your stomach then starts making acid, ready for the arrival of your first mouthfuls of food. When the food arrives, more acid is made.

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Last Updated: November 11, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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