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Helicobacter pylori

3-minute read

Key facts

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a type of bacteria that can live in the lining of the stomach.
  • H.pylori can cause stomach inflammation (gastritis) and more serious conditions such as stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
  • About 4 in 10 Australians aged over 60 have it, but many people won’t develop any symptoms or disease.
  • Once detected, H. pylori can be treated and is unlikely to return.

What is Helicobacter pylori?

The bacteria H. pylori lives in the lining of the stomach. It is the most common infection in the world and is more common in developing countries. It causes inflammation of the stomach's lining and increased production of gastric acid, which can cause gastritis, ulcers and some stomach cancers.

How is Helicobacter pylori transmitted?

It's not fully understood how people get infected with H. pylori. It's thought to be spread though contact with the saliva or faecal matter (poo) of an infected person, or by consuming contaminated water or food. With the improvement in basic hygiene there has been a decrease in H. pylori in the developed world.

It is likely that people become infected as children, but you can also be infected as an adult.

What conditions does Helicobacter pylori cause?

Most people who are infected with H. pylori eventually develop gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach) but they may not show any symptoms.

If you are infected with H. pylori, you are more likely than other people to develop ulcers in the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).

It also increases the risk of cancer of the stomach, but this is very rare in Australia.

How is Heliobacter pylori diagnosed?

There are several ways H.Pylori can be detected in people with symptoms, such as ulcers or gastrointestinal pain. Your doctor will request the right tests for your case, which might include:

How is Helicobacter pylori treated?

Some people with H.pylori won't need any treatment, particularly if they don't have any symptoms.

If you're diagnosed with a stomach ulcer caused by H. pylori, your doctor will most likely treat it with a mix of antibiotics and acid-suppressing medicine. This will also speed up ulcer healing and help prevent more ulcers from developing because the antibiotics will kill the bacteria.

Once H.pylori has been successfully eradicated, your risk of being infected again is very low.

Can Helicobacter pylori be prevented?

You can reduce your chances of getting H. pylori in the same way you protect yourself from other bacteria, for example by:

  • washing your hands after you use the bathroom, and before preparing and eating food
  • avoiding food or water that's not clean
  • eating food that is cooked thoroughly (especially when travelling)
  • avoiding food served by people who haven't washed their hands

Resources and support

  • Speak to your doctor. If you need to find a GP or health service, use the healthdirect Service Finder.
  • If you're experiencing symptoms and want advice on what to do next, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2019

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