Can Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) cause IBS?

Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) is a common bacterium that can inhabit the stomach and has the ability to actually burrow deep into the lining of the stomach where it can begin to affect the production of stomach acid and cause acid reflux, as well as increase the risk of an ulcer.

About 40% of people in the UK have H.pylori and, in the majority of people who have it, it doesn’t cause any problems. However, just like any bacteria, there are different strains of H.pylori, some more virulent than others, and it is these more virulent strains that can increase the risk of stomach and duodenal cancers.

About 15% of people with the condition get ulcers either in their stomach or in their duodenum. A typical symptom of an ulcer is abdominal pain affected by eating, either made worse or improved. They are usually experienced by those who are under severe or prolonged stress, who drink alcohol, who smoke and who are known to have H.pylori. However, it needs to be borne in mind that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin are implicated in ulcers.

Occasionally, ulcers become much more serious as they can bleed or even burst, which happens if the ulcer penetrates deep enough into the stomach lining to make a hole. People with ulcers should, therefore, be checked for H.pylori, and if positive, be treated with the aim of getting rid of this bacterium.

“The two most important factors contributing to the development of ulcers are H.pylori and the use of NSAIDs”

Hunt & Bazzoli, 2004

If you want to read the story on how H. pylori was discovered, you can do so here.

Why I chose to write about H.pylori

I’ve wanted to write a blog post about H.pylori for quite some time now because, over the years, I have received so many enquiries from people who suffer with typical IBS symptoms of trapped painful gas, uncomfortable bloating and irregular bowel movements.  

You may ask yourself, ‘what has H.pylori got to do with IBS?’

Well, the answer is quite a lot actually. When I delve a bit deeper into a patient’s history, it transpires that many of them were diagnosed with H. pylori and were given a prescription from their GP for eradication therapy. This consists of two antibiotics and a powerful antacid, sometimes called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI).

Eradication therapy is pretty effective at killing the H.pylori, although it is important to have a stool test after the antibiotics and antacid to ensure that the H.pylori bug is dead because if it isn’t, then it may be necessary to have another round of the antibiotics and PPI.

However, what must be borne in mind is the fact that antibiotics will not only be extremely effective at ‘nuking’ the H.pylori bugs, but also your friendly gut bugs. That’s the very bugs that help to properly digest your food, absorb nutrients, manufacture crucial vitamins and hormones – including serotonin to help prevent depression – as well as help ‘crowd out’ pathogenic strains of bacteria, fungi and yeasts. In turn, this ensures you have a well-functioning immune system and reduces your risk of bowel infections and bowel cancer.

Let me be honest here – as I write this, I am quietly fuming at the medical ‘powers that be’, who know exactly what collateral damage antibiotics do to friendly gut bacteria – not forgetting the friendly bacteria in your urinary system, including your bladder, your lungs and the bacteria that live on your skin – and how antibiotic use can increase the risk of developing IBS type symptoms, not to mention cystitis and skin issues. They know that gut dysbiosis, a term used to describe an imbalance in friendly gut bacteria, usually caused by multiple courses of antibiotics, puts people more at risk of developing the aforementioned symptoms, as well as increasing the risk of developing an auto-immune disease, yet they chose not to inform people of this when they have to take a course of antibiotics.  It’s infuriating (and that’s putting it very mildly!)

What causes H.pylori infections?

The infections are thought to spread from one person’s mouth to another. They may also be transferred from faeces to the mouth. This can happen when a person does not wash their hands thoroughly after going to the toilet. H.pylori can also spread through contact with contaminated water or food.

Just like other parasites that have used the human body as a host to live in for tens of thousands of years, H.pylori is no different.  Over the millennia, it has adapted to be able to live in the harsh acidic environment of the stomach and its unique corkscrew-shaped head enables it to burrow through the thick mucosal lining that protects the stomach from the stomach acid it produces, into the lining of the stomach itself, and there it sets about destroying that protective mucosal barrier, increasing the risk of the stomach acid burning the lining of the stomach and creating an ulcer.  H.pylori can also penetrate the small intestine and cause a duodenal ulcer.  

What are the symptoms of an H.pylori infection?

Symptoms of H. pylori infections include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Excessive burping
  • Feeling bloated
  • Nausea  
  • Heartburn
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

See your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Severe, unrelenting pain
  • Anaemia
  • Black, tarry stools

How is H.pylori treated?

You will normally need to take a combination of two different antibiotics, together with a strong antacid that reduces your stomach acid. Lowering stomach acid helps the antibiotics work more effectively at killing the H.pylori.

After treatment, you will have a follow-up test for H.pylori. In most cases, only one round of antibiotics and antacid is needed to clear the infection, but you might need to take more, using different, stronger drugs.  When you have the follow-up test, it needs to be a urea breath test or a stool antigen test, not a blood test.  Blood tests for H.pylori may show as positive for many years, due to the presence of H.pylori antibodies in your blood.

After-effects of the eradication therapy

The way we get rid of H.pylori can cause even more problems. H.pylori is eradicated, but the heavy-duty antibiotics and PPI come with their own side effects, including more acid reflux and heartburn, more bloating, pain and irregular bowel movements.

I strongly advise anyone who has had to take eradication therapy drugs to kill H.pylori, to begin taking live bacteria capsules as soon as they finish the course of medication. Take one twice daily before meals to help replenish and recolonise the gut with friendly strains of bacteria, helping to support digestive and gut health, and prevent IBS type symptoms.

I get so many wonderful emails and messages from people who simply could not understand why they were still suffering after H. pylori eradication therapy, only to find, after taking live bacteria probiotic capsules, that their symptoms began to improve.  You can learn more about live bacteria here, and read some of the reviews on my own Just For Tummies Live Bacteria capsules.

The Just For Tummies Live Bacteria capsules

How to manage any ongoing problems

If, after H.pylori eradication therapy, your GP has carried out a test to ensure that the H.pylori has definitely been eradicated, and that test confirms that the H.pylori has been eradicated, but you are still having problems with acid reflux, uncomfortable bloating and irregular bowel movements, this is my protocol to help you resolve the symptoms:

  • Remove any suspected or known causative factors such as smoking and drinking alcohol, stress, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)/aspirin
  • Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, and essential fatty acids from Omega 3s
  • Remove fried foods from the diet, along with junk foods, and decrease grains, particularly refined grains

You can view the full range of Just For Tummies supplements here:

the range of Just For Tummies digestive and gut health supplements
The full range of Just For Tummies supplements

‘When I contacted Linda, I was suffering with severe bloating and an upset stomach after eradication therapy for H.pylori.  Linda was quick to reply with very helpful advice.  I’ve been taking her Live Bacteria probiotics and Digestive Enzymes for two months now, and the pain and bloating have gone.  Thank you Linda – you are amazing!  I am forever grateful for your help.’

Adriana Enache

Further helpful information can be found here:

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