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H. pylori is a spiral-shaped bacterium commonly found in the stomach. The bacteria's shape and the way mobility allow them to penetrate the stomach's protective mucous lining, there they can produce substances that weaken the stomach lining and make it more susceptible to damage from gastric acids.
The bacteria can also attach to the cells of the stomach, causing stomach inflammation (gastritis), and can stimulate the production of excess stomach acid. Over time, infection with the bacteria can also increase the risk of stomach cancer. However, despite these infectious characteristics, studies have shown that over 80% of patients experience no significant signs or symptoms of an infection.
Development of peptic ulcers has been attributed to the infection caused by H. Pylori. A 10-20% lifetime risk of suffering from these ulcers is also coupled with 1-2% risk of developing stomach cancer. Further inflammation of the stomach lining, if chronic, will likely result in carcinogenesis, the initial stage of gastric cancer.
H. Pylori bacteria infection is most likely acquired by the ingestion of contaminated food or water and through person-to-person contact. It is estimated that 20-30% of the adult population in the United States is infected with the bacteria.
Fortunately, Helicobacter pylori presence can be diagnosed using non-invasive tests. For those who test positive, successful treatments are readily available.