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For Your Patients

Should I be tested for H. pylori?

A simple guide to help your patients understand peptic ulcer disease.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Help your patients learn more about their peptic ulcer disease.

Q. What is an ulcer?

A. An ulcer is a sore or hole in the lining of the stomach (gastric ulcer) or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Twenty-five million Americans suffer from ulcers. People of any age can get an ulcer, and women are affected just as often as men.

Q. What causes ulcers?

A. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a bacterium that lives on the lining of the stomach. Although we used to think that spicy food, acid, and stress were the major causes of ulcers, we now know that nine out of ten ulcers are caused by H. pylori. Medicines that reduce stomach acid may make you feel better, but your ulcer may come back.

Here’s the good news: Because most ulcers are caused by this bacterial infection, they can be cured with the right antibiotics.

Q. What are the symptoms of peptic ulcer disease?

A. The most common ulcer symptom is a gnawing or burning pain in the abdomen between the breastbone and the belly button. The pain often occurs when the stomach is empty, between meals and in the early morning hours, but it can occur at any other time. It may last from minutes to hours and may be relieved by eating food or taking antacids. Less common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite.

Sometimes ulcers bleed. If bleeding continues for a long time, it may lead to anemia with weakness and fatigue. If bleeding is heavy, blood may appear in vomit or bowel movements, which may appear dark red or black.

Q. How can your healthcare provider tell if you have H. pylori?

A. Your healthcare provider may choose to use any of the following tests to determine if your ulcer is caused by H. pylori: Stool test: A simple stool test can determine if you are infected with H. pylori. In this test, you provide your doctor with a small stool specimen (an easy-to-use collection system is provided for this purpose). The doctor will send it to a laboratory.
Breath test: A breath test can determine if you are infected with H. pylori. In this test, you drink a harmless liquid and in less than 1 hour, a sample of your breath is tested in the doctor’s office or in a laboratory for H. pylori.
Endoscopy: Your healthcare provider may decide to perform an endoscopy. This is a test in which a small tube with a camera inside is inserted through the mouth and into the stomach to look for ulcers. During the endoscopy, small samples of the stomach lining can be obtained and tested for H. pylori.

Q. What is the treatment for H. pylori infection?

A. If you have an ulcer, you should be tested for H. pylori, and if the test is positive, you should be treated with antibiotics.
Antibiotics offer a new cure for ulcers; therapy is 1-2 weeks of one or two antibiotics plus a medicine that will reduce the acid in the stomach. This treatment is a dramatic medical advance because eliminating H. pylori with antibiotics means that there is a greater than 90% chance that gastric or duodenal ulcer can be cured for good. [ACG 1817A]
Remember, it is very important to continue taking all of this medicine until it is gone, even when you begin to feel better. If you are having side effects that make it hard to take your medicine, talk to your healthcare provider.

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