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What is helicobacter pylori?

Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, is a spiral-shaped bacterium found in the stomach. H. pylori secretes acid, damages stomach and duodenal tissue, and causes inflammation and peptic ulcers. It:

  • is able to penetrate the stomach's protective mucus lining
  • produces the enzyme urease, which damages your child's stomach acids
  • leads to sores or ulcers in the stomach or duodenum (first part of the small intestine)
  • can also stimulate the stomach to produce more acid

It is a leading cause of ulcers in children.

Researchers aren't sure what causes H. pylori.

Boston Children's Hospital has one of the largest pediatric Gastroenterology programs in the world. We see more than 27,000 outpatient visits per year and consistently rank among the top pediatric digestive disorder centers by U.S. News & World Report. Ongoing clinical studies, as well as a full range of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, make Boston Children's a one-stop center for digestive disorders.

Helicobacter Pylori | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of H. pylori-related ulcers?

Most children or adults first develop gastritis: an inflammation of the stomach lining. Many will never have symptoms. Some symptoms are:    

  • dull, gnawing pain
  • loss of weight
  • loss of appetite
  • bloating
  • burping
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Helicobacter Pylori | Diagnosis & Treatments

How do we diagnose H. pylori?

Tests used to diagnose Helicobacter pylori may include:

  • blood tests to identify antibodies that indicate the presence of the bacterium
  • stool test and to identify the bacterium (antigen)
  • breath tests to determine if carbon is present after drinking a solution that breaks down urea
  • tissue tests to detect the presence of the enzyme urease, examine the bacteria that is present, and start a culture test to grow more bacteria for examination

How do we treat H. pylori?

Treatment for H. pylori can include:

  • antibiotics to kill the bacteria
  • medications to suppress acid production, including:
    • H2-blockers, to reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces by blocking
    • histamine, a powerful stimulant of acid secretion
    • proton pump inhibitors, to more completely block stomach acid production by stopping the stomach's acid pump

Helicobacter Pylori | Programs & Services