Medical Q&As

Helicobacter - what is it?

What exactly is helicobacter and how does it affect you?

Helicobacter is the name of a bacterium and not a disease. Its full name is helicobacter pylori and research workers in Australia have only discovered it in recent years. It had previously been thought that the stomach was a relatively sterile area due to the high degree of acidity of the gastric juices, which include hydrochloric acid. However helicobacter pylori is able to withstand the destructive effects of the stomach secretions. There are no symptoms of helicobacter infection but rather there are particular symptom patterns for the different diseases that it causes. Most duodenal ulcers occur as a result of helicobacter infection. By killing the bacterium most people with helicobacter infection can be cured. This is achieved by using a combination of drugs including antibiotics. Various studies have shown that such combination treatments will cure 80% of people and eliminate the need for continuing with acid reducing drugs. Many cases of gastric ulcer are also due to helicobacter infection and the effectiveness of combination treatments appear to be similar to that seen with duodenal ulcers. Carcinoma of the stomach has been associated with helicobacter however; a direct causal relationship has not been definitively proven. Recent research has focussed on the possible role of helicobacter in non-ulcer dyspepsia and reflux disease. The discovery of helicobacter pylori is one of the great medical breakthroughs of recent years and has revolutionised the management of various upper gastrointestinal disorders.