H what? Things you need to know about H pylori infection

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Fact: Most people with stomach cancer get it as a result of H pylori infectionHelicobacter pylori (HEL-ik-oh BAK-ter pie-LOR-ee) infection is known to cause some stomach problems, including stomach ulcers. In fact, while spicy foods can make an ulcer feel worse, they are not the cause of stomach ulcers as once believed—most ulcers are caused by H pylori infection.

Another important thing to know about H pylori is that it is considered to be something that causes cancer in humans. Although most people with H pylori don’t get cancer, most people with stomach cancer get it as a result of H pylori infection.

Who gets H pylori?

Anyone can get H pylori. About half the world's population has it. In the United States about 1 in 3 people are affected, although it is more common among non-Hispanic black and Hispanic Americans, and most common among people from Southeast Asia.

How does H pylori make you feel sick?

1 in 3 Americans have H pylori

The H pylori infection is a spiral-shaped bug. The bug spirals into the stomach’s protective lining, damaging it and allowing stomach acids to get through to the stomach wall. The bug can also irritate stomach cells and cause too much stomach acid.

In many cases H pylori won’t become active and make someone sick. When it does, problems can include "heartburn" located below the chest and above the stomach (an area called the upper abdomen) that lasts or keeps happening.

Upper Abdomen

What is the treatment for H pylori?

once active H pylori infection has been diagnosed, treatment may include the following:

  • Bacteria-killing drugs called antibiotics
  • A medication such as Pepto-Bismol
  • Another medicine to reduce the acid in the stomach


At least four weeks after treatment is finished, you should be tested again to make sure that H pylori infection is gone. Just remember test-treat-retest.

Does treatment prevent stomach cancer?

There is some proof that early treatment of H pylori can reduce the risk of stomach cancer, although more proof is needed for doctors to be sure. Fortunately, only a very small number of H pylori patients—fewer than 1 in 1,000—will get stomach cancer, so it is very rare.

How is it spread?

H pylori is thought to spread through contaminated food and water and through direct contact with saliva. In most cases, the infection happens during childhood, especially in children living in poor, crowded areas with poor waste removal. 

Get ready for testing

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If you have any questions about testing for H pylori, be sure to ask your doctor.