Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium found in the stomach. It used to be named Campylobacter pyloridis. Discovered in 1982 and often called H. pylori, the bacterium’s discovery surprised scientists who had previously thought that the extremely acid conditions of the stomach precluded the ability for microorganisms to exist in that environment.
H. pylori, a major cause of stomach and other gastro esophageal issues such as gastric ulcers, chronic gastritis, duodenal ulcers, and even stomach cancer flourishes in the upper gastrointestinal tracts of at least half the world’s population. Prior to H. pylori’s discovery, ulcers were thought to be caused by stress, and while researchers haven’t entirely ruled out the possibility that psychological stress plays a part in the creation of peptic ulcers, it is highly likely that the physiological stresses of microbial activity by H. pylori play a bigger role in the causes of gastric ulcers and the chronic inflammation of the upper GI tract known as gastritis.
Many of the people who harbor Helicobacter pylori in their stomachs are completely asymptomatic, meaning that there are no symptoms or signs that they have the bacteria in their stomachs. Ten to 20 per cent of people with Helicobacter pylori develop acute stomach distress, including stomach aches or nausea. Repeated inflammation can cause a chronic condition of gastritis, which presents with uncomfortable stomach upsets including vomiting, belching, bloating, pressure, and stomach ache on relatively frequent and regular occasions.
H. pylori survives the intensely acid conditions of the stomach by remaining close to the outside of the stomach lining, the epithelial cell layer. The mucous that is always present in the stomach and upper GI tract can form a protective surface for the bacterium, which will often burrow inside the mucous for protection. Helicobacter pylori is equipped with flagella, little waving appendages that enable it to swim to locations in the stomach with the favorable pH conditions that allow it to survive such an acidic environment. H. pyloria also secretes an enzyme which allows it to break down the stomach acid it encounters. Unfortunately, the by-products of this enzyme secretion are toxic to the cells of the stomach lining, which can cause it to become inflamed and can develop into gastritis or an ulcer.
Helicobacter pylori infections can be treated, as antibiotics and other medical treatments can eradicate it and clean the stomach out. Researchers are also investigating the possibilities of developing a vaccine to prevent the proliferation of H. pylori in the stomach.