My H. Pylori Diagnosis (And How it Explains All My Symptoms)
After I took antibiotics to finally clear my SIBO, I started experiencing a set of symptoms that were completely new to me. And almost a year and a half later, I finally have a diagnosis that explains all of them - H. pylori.
After over four years of dealing with primarily lower gastrointestinal related symptoms like bloating, gas, and constipation, the upper GI symptoms that I now know were associated with this H. pylori infection were so foreign to me.
But I’m so thankful that all of these symptoms have a root cause. And that I’m able to start treating them, and getting one step closer to full health.
In this blog post I’m going to share my H. pylori journey, what symptoms it caused me, how I figured out I had it, and what I’m doing to treat it.
What is H. Pylori?
H. pylori (or Heliobacter pylori if we’re going to be proper) is a species of bacteria that can live in your digestive tract.
But, unlike most of the gut infections that we normally think of, H. pylori typically infects your stomach, not your intestines.
And the tricky part about H. pylori is that many people can be totally symptom free, even if they’re infected with this bad bacteria.
Which is why functional lab testing is so critical if you have any sort of gut symptoms at all or suspect you’ve been infected.
If you have an H. pylori infection, you’re at a greater risk of developing upper GI conditions. Diagnoses like gastritis, peptic ulcer disease, and acid reflux are all very commonly attributed to H. pylori.
Each strain of H. pylori can also have different virulence factors. Which are basically just the molecules produced by the bacteria to make it more or less effective.
The variations in virulence factors can make each case of H. pylori so different. Causing different symptoms, and leading to potentially different disease states.
Overall, H. pylori is not an infection that you want to have long-term. Whether it’s causing symptoms or not, any sort of gut imbalance is going to eventually have a negative impact on your overall health.
How H. Pylori is Diagnosed
There are really four main methods for diagnosing H. pylori.
1. Blood Antibody Test
This diagnostic tool checks your blood to determine if your body has made antibodies to the H. pylori bacteria. If you do have antibodies, that doesn’t necessarily mean you currently have an H. pylori infection. It just means that you were infected sometime in the past.
This is probably the easiest and least expensive way to screen for H. pylori. But, the drawback is that you aren’t able to determine if the antibodies are due to a current or past infection.
2. Urea Breath Test
This test is very similar to a SIBO breath test. A capsule containing urea is swallowed to initiate the test. And if H. pylori is present, the bacteria will break up the urea and turn it into carbon dioxide. Which can then be picked up by the testing instrument.
This test was shown to be very accurate in correctly diagnosing patients with an H. pylori infection that caused indigestion.
3. Stool Antigen Test
Testing for H. pylori in stool is looking for specific antigens, or substances that trigger the immune system, that attack this infection. If these antigens are present in your stool, your body is currently fighting an H. pylori infection.
This method of testing for H. pylori was shown to be as effective as the Urea breath test.
4. Stomach Biopsy
A stomach biopsy to diagnose H. pylori is definitely the most invasive of the four testing options. A small sample of the lining of your stomach and small intestine is taken during an endoscopy procedure.
There is some debate as to the accuracy of this method of testing for H. pylori. And since this is the most uncomfortable and difficult method, you might be better off trusting the breath or stool tests for your diagnosis.
Personally, I was diagnosed with H. pylori using a GI-MAP stool test.
Common H. Pylori Symptoms
Since every case of H. pylori is going to be very different, the symptoms of this infection are wide-ranging as well.
Some of the commons H. pylori symptoms are:
Ache or burning in your abdomen
Abdominal pain that’s worse when your stomach is empty
Loss of appetite
Unintentional weight loss
And friends, I had ALL of those symptoms at some point over the last year and a half! So, as you can imagine, I was relieved when my stool test results came back positive for H. pylori. I finally had some answers as to why I was feeling this way.
I also experienced some less traditional H. pylori symptoms that I want to dive a little deeper into.
Now that I have an official H. pylori diagnosis, I’m able to connect these symptoms to this infection. Whereas before, they were just strange symptoms that had no real root cause.
Histamine intolerance, unlike what the name suggests, is actually not a sensitivity to histamine, but an indication that you have too much histamine built up in your body.
Histamine is a chemical that is involved in a variety of processes in your body. Everything from assisting your immune system, to regulating proper digestion can be influenced by histamines.
Normally, we have a small amount of histamine circulating through our body. But things like allergies, certain gut infections, and eating histamine-rich foods can all increase that overall histamine load.
And when your body cannot properly remove those histamines, or the load is just too great, you’ll start developing symptoms.
My symptoms related to histamine intolerance began around the same time all of my upper GI symptoms popped up. But I just never connected the two.
These symptoms that I attributed to histamine intolerance were:
Swelling in my hands and arms after eating
Intolerances to certain foods (eggs, fermented foods, coconut, nightshades)
And it wasn’t until I learned that H. pylori actually produces histamine, that all of these symptoms finally made sense.
The H. pylori infection was increasing my body’s histamine load past what it could handle. And when my histamine bucket got too full, I would experience any range of the symptoms listed above.
Since I have started treating my H. pylori infection, all of these symptoms have gotten significantly better. I have been able to tolerate more exercise, eating eggs again, and the swelling in my hands has all but disappeared.
Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR)
LPR, also known as silent reflux, occurs when stomach acid moves up the esophagus and actually gets into your throat.
This highly acidic fluid irritates your throat causing the symptoms of coughing, sore throat, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing.
LPR, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in general, has been correlated with H. pylori infections.
The presence of H. pylori in your stomach tends to suppress stomach acid secretion. Meaning that with H. pylori you’re going to have lower levels of stomach acid than you would normally.
And when stomach acid is low, the Lower Esophageal Sphincter cannot work properly. This sphincter is a bundle of muscles at the lower end of the esophagus that, when closed and working properly, prevents acid and stomach contents from traveling back up your throat.
Stomach acid triggers this sphincter to stay closed, indicating the presence of food and the need to keep stomach contents in the stomach. So when stomach acid is low, the sphincter doesn’t know it needs to close.
Resulting in symptoms of LPR and GERD.
Before starting H. pylori treatment, I would have a cough, phlegm, and a sore throat almost every morning and most times after eating. But since starting my treatment these symptoms have drastically improved.
My most recent GI-MAP stool test showed higher than normal levels of fat in my stool. Which basically means that my body wasn’t able to properly digest and use the fat I was eating. A lot of it was just going straight through me.
Even before getting my GI-MAP results, I knew that I had an impaired ability to digest fats.
Fatty meals made me nauseous and I was constantly bloated.
But, after receiving the results of my stool test that showed both an H. pylori infection and fat malabsorption, I was able to see the connection between the two.
Fat malabsorption is caused by a cascade of issues, all stemming from low stomach acid levels. That were, in my case, caused by an H. pylori infection.
Without the proper pH in your gut (mediated by your stomach acid), bile will not be released from your gallbladder and you’ll be unable to properly digest fats.
Since getting these results, I’ve been using a liver and gallbladder support supplement that is helping me digest my fats better until I clear the H. pylori infection. I’ve already noticed a big difference in my bloating and how I feel after eating high fat meals. And I’m eagerly anticipating how I feel after my stomach acid levels increase as well.
H. Pylori Treatment Options
Like with many gut infections, there are two typical treatment paths for H. pylori. You can either choose to use prescription antibiotics, or herbal antimicrobials.
There are many FDA-approved antibiotic therapies for the treatment of H. pylori. But like with any antibiotic use, you run the risk of a few things.
With antibiotics you have a greater risk of killing off beneficial gut flora leaving room for other opportunistic infections to take root.
And since H. pylori has a number of different virulence factors, you may end up treating your infection with an antibiotic that your strain of H. pylori is resistant to.
The other option for treating H. pylori is using herbal antimicrobials.
Using antimicrobials to treat H. pylori is usually less disruptive of your overall gut bacteria, but can take months, as opposed to weeks with antibiotic therapy.
The most common alternative H. pylori treatment is with Mastic Gum.
Mastic Gum treatment of H. pylori has been proven effective, and is a good alternative for people not wanting to use antibiotics.
As with all gut infections, it’s important to work with a trained practitioner who has experience in treating this overgrowth.
The Bottom Line
The symptoms of an H. pylori infection can range from nothing at all to debilitating gastritis and GERD.
And for me, discovering that I had H. pylori enabled me to find a root cause for all of my previously unexplained symptoms.
If you think you might be suffering from an H. pylori infection, working with a trained medical professional and undergoing the necessary testing is the first step towards recovery.
For me, once I realized I had this infection, I was able to start treatment and saw a reduction in my symptoms almost immediately.
H. pylori can be difficult to treat, but in doing so you’ll be one step closer to full recovery on your gut healing journey!
Do you think you could have H. pylori? Or have you already gone through H. pylori treatment? Share your story in the comments below!
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