One Monday morning, I wasn’t feeling too great but had to go to work anyway. I’m a medical laboratory scientist, hence at work I decided to screen myself thinking I had contracted malaria or some infection which was making me feel that way. I tested positive for Helicobacter pylori although I had no sign of stomach pain or upset. As a shocked and curious scientist I read more about this.
Helicobacter pylori is a type of bacteria which infects the stomach lining usually during childhood. One gets infected when one ingests or takes in contaminated food or water. This bacteria can live in the stomach for many years without causing any disease but have been implicated in causing ulcers and sometimes stomach cancer. This particular bacteria is killing a lot of people without showing any signs of ailment.
About two-thirds of the world’s population are living with this bacteria in their stomach lining. It was in 1982 when it was discovered that the bacteria is the cause of most ulcers. The stomach lining protects the stomach from acids. Helicobacter pylori destroys this lining. Once the stomach lining is depleted, acids can sip into the stomach wall, causing sores which are popularly known as ulcers.
When infected one may feel generally weak and have this rumbling and grumbling sound in their stomach like it happens when one is hungry. Other signs may include bloating, burping, loss of appetite and nausea, vomiting and weight loss for no clear reason. An individual should seek prompt medical attention when they experience bloody stool (faeces), dizziness, trouble breathing, fatigue, severe and sharp stomach pain.
It can be diagnosed by Endoscopy, Breath test, Blood and stool test and Computed Tomography (CT) scan. In endoscopy, an endoscope (an instrument for examining the stomach lining) is inserted into the gastrointestinal (digestive) tract to check for sores.
In the Breath test the patient is given a substance called urea and after sometime he or she is made to breathe into a paper bag. The paper bag is then brought to the lab to check for the level of carbon dioxide. This is because the bacteria acts on the ingested urea converting it to carbon dioxide.
In the blood test, a blood sample is taken from the patient and tested to see if he or she has produced antibodies against the bacteria whereas in the stool test, the lab scientist sets out to find bacterial antigen. The stool test is more reliable than the blood test. This is because it captures the antigens directly if only they are present. Moreover in an individual who has been treated for H. pylori infection, the antibodies may still be in the blood which may give the doctor a false notion that you’ve been infected again.
The good news is H. pylori infection is treatable and thus one should get treated as soon as possible to prevent possible cancers. Treatment is done using the “triple therapy” which involves antibiotics to kill the bacteria, protein-pump inhibitors to stop excess acid production in the stomach and histamine blockers to block histamine (a substance that triggers acid production). It is important that everyone screen for this dangerous bacteria because it’s most of the time it doesn’t present any symptoms.
To get screened, contact +233 (0) 277168404 / +233 (0) 249392706.
This article was written by MLS Emmanuel Arkorful, a professional medical laboratory scientist. Follow @abeiiku on Twitter for more explanation.