Helicobacter pylori: 3 Critical Risk Factors of H. pylori Infection

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Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a common gram-negative bacterium that is associated with stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers. This bacterium causes ulceration on the epithelial layer of the stomach. You may have several other complications that include stomach cancer and necrosis of cells due to inflammation.

H. pylori is a Gram negative bacteria with flagella
Helicobacter pylori bacterial cells in a dark background

The effects of H. pylori infection occur after so many years of infection. Some individuals acquire the infection in their childhood and suffer various effects in adulthood. It is estimated that more two thirds of the world’s population have had this infection at some point.

However, the majority of people remain asymptomatic and going about their day-to-day business without issues. Another small proportion have serious symptomatic disease and have to change their lifestyle in order to survive.

Transmission of Helicobacter pylori

You can acquire H. pylori infection through contact with saliva, stool or vomit of an infected person. Therefore, this means that contamination of water and food is an effective way of person-to-person transmission of H. pylori. This perhaps explains why the spread of the infection with these bacteria keeps rising year in, year out.

It however, is not clear about the exact pathogenesis through which H. pylori causes peptic ulcers and gastritis. But as earlier mentioned inflammation of the epithelial lining of the stomach could be one that plays a central role.

Risk factors for H. pylori Infection

Risk factors are defined as determinants either genetical or environmental that increase a risk of a disease in a susceptible individual. Here are the three main risk factors for H. pylori infection:

  1. Unhygienic Conditions

Like many fecal-oral transmitted diseases, lack of clean water for drinking and cooking is a high-profile risk factor for H. pylori infection. For other household washing activities, it is still important to use uncontaminated water to avoid infection.

Some people insist on drinking boiled water yet they wash the serving glasses with unsafe water. As far as I am concerned, these are prevention efforts in futility because you would still be infected.

Where there no clean toilets and latrines this still poses a great risk of transmission. This is in addition to lack of the routine tradition of washing hands after visiting the toilet.

  1. Crowded Living Conditions

The fecal-oral transmitted infections including H. pylori have a higher epidemiological burden in developing countries more than in developed countries. We can attribute this to factors like crowded living conditions.

You are more likely to find slums around the urban centers of developing countries than in developed countries. Crowding compromises, the hygiene standards for the most part, and this explains how crowding becomes a risk factor.

  1. Associating with Helicobacter pylori infected Person

A H. pylori infected person is a risk to those who are not infected. It is important for both the infected and the people living around him/her to well understand this argument. Let’s say that the person who have tested positive for H. pylori is involved in preparing food for the others.

What do you think would happen if that person is not good at observing cleanliness especially after visiting the toilet? This certainly sounds an uninteresting example, but ladies and gentlemen, lets uncover what we’ve been ailing from.

An assumption that such matters do not matter perhaps explains why the global prevalence of H. pylori has really gone up in the recent times.

Risk factors for H. pylori
Questionnaire for H. pylori Risk Factors

Pathogenesis of H. pylori Infection

After infection of the stomach lining the immune system mounts an immune response called inflammation. Inflammation causes infiltration of the immune cells and other proteins at the stomach lining. Then inflammation persists in the gastric mucosa causing chronic gastritis.

This progresses for a long time due to not only H. pylori infection but also genetic and environmental factors. The end result after many years are several complications that we shall discuss later in this article.

Symptoms of H. pylori Infection

The clinical manifestations of the H. pylori infection are mostly related to peptic ulcers and gastritis. These symptoms include:

  • Frequent bloating after eating
  • Frequent belching or burping
  • Stomachache with burning sensation especially when stomach is empty
  • Frequent heart burn due to increased HCL
  • Nausea and sometimes vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea and intermittent constipation

Diagnosis of H. pylori Infection

H. pylori infection can be diagnosed through stool analysis in the laboratory which includes stool culture. You can also be subjected to immunological tests that detect the presence of antibodies against H. pylori in your blood.

In addition, endoscopy can be employed especially where chronic gastritis is suspected. During endoscopy, a small tissue is picked from the lining of your stomach and tested in the histology laboratory.

Treatment of Helicobacter pylori

For most people especially where signs and symptoms are not apparent, people do not need any treatment. However, you can be given antibiotics when a positive test for H. pylori is confirmed.

But this should be prescribed by a clinician so that the right type and dosage are observed. Careless use of antibiotics can cause more harm than good in your body. Home-based treatment options are also quite popular.

This is particularly the case in the management of bloating, gastritis and peptic ulcers. The home-based treatments have an important component – change of lifestyle. This is important because H. pylori has been reported to be very persistent and fairly resistant to antibiotic treatment.

 Prevention of H. pylori Infection

To avoid the H. pylori infection, you should observe hygiene at all times. You should also avoid the risk factors that we’ve discussed above where possible. It should, of course be possible unless a risk factor is a genetic factor.

Scientists have suggested screening of populations even when such populations have no signs and symptoms of H. pylori infection. However, this debate has never been conclusive on whether such a practice would be of benefit.

Complications of H. pylori Infection

  1. Chronic Inflammation – H. pylori infection causes inflammation of the stomach or intestinal lining due to response by the cells of the immune system. This may cause chronic gastritis.
  2. Ulcers – After the damage of stomach epithelial lining, the highly increased level of hydrochloric acid irritates lining to make sores. These could be peptic ulcers or duodenal ulcers.
  3. Stomach Cancers – H. pylori infection has been linked to some types of cancers especially due to cellular metaplasia that may end up causing masses of cells. Gastric cancer and stomach cancer have been cited in this case.


H. pylori infection is a serious issue that should be taken as such. This risk factors for H. pylori are avoidable. H. pylori infection should be well managed to avert its complications.

Helicobacter pylori: 3 Critical Risk Factors of H. pylori Infection

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