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Everything You Need to Know About H. Pylori Infection in Children

For parents, nothing matters more than the health of their children. In spite of taking every possible preventive measure to keep their children well protected, diseases and infections are inevitable. In this regard, it is important to mention about the Helicobacter pylori infection that is found to affect both infants (between 1-5 years of age) as well as adults.

A gram-negative bacteria (a spiral-shaped microaerophilic bacterium), H. pylori thrive in the stomach. Left attended and undiagnosed, the infection by H. pylori can trigger severe consequences and health complications including inflammation of the tissues of the duodenum and stomach as well as ulcer formation (peptic ulcers). Various studies and research suggest that the incidences of H. pylori infections among infants and children are significantly higher in the developing countries.

In most cases, the early stages of the infection triggered by H. pylori appear to be asymptomatic. In fact, how the H. pylori bacteria gets into the human body is yet not fully understood. However, being contagious, the infection and the bacteria is believed to be transmitted through close physical contact with the infected person.The transmission to a healthy person can also take place through the orofecal route (the bacteria present in the stool of the infected person/child enters into the oral cavity of a healthy person).

With the passage of time, the H. pylori infection mostly acquired in childhood and infancy can wreak havoc resulting in serious health problems and complications.

1. Reports suggest that in addition to gastritis, inflammation, and ulcer formation, there is also a possible link between the H. pylori infection and iron deficiency, giving rise to anaemia (concrete evidence are yet to be furnished).

2. In many instances, the bacterial infection acts as a catalyst giving rise to gastric malignancies and cancer.

3. In some children and infants, the infection can also lead to gastric Mucosa-Associated Lymphoid Tissue Lymphomas (MALTomas). It is a rare type of low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma that arises from the B-cells located in the marginal zone of the Mucosa-Associated Lymphoid Tissue (MALT).

4. The infection can also affect the healthy growth of the infected child (Faltering or altered growth). However, research is still going on to prove the credibility of this point.

5. Another problem triggered by the H. pylori infection in children is a medical condition termed as Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a chronic disorder of the digestive system whereby the acid of the stomach instead of flowing downwards moves back into the oesophagus causing irritation and heartburns.

Associated symptoms

If your child shows any of the following symptoms, consult a doctor at the earliest.

- Abdominal pain (recurring and often a burning pain) and discomfort.

- There is a loss of appetite.

- Nausea and vomiting are also commonly observed.

- In some cases, there may be a sudden and rapid loss of weight.

- In the case of the infection resulting in peptic ulcer

- The stool usually appears bloody or black, a condition called as Melena.

- There may also be blood vomiting (also known as Hematemesis).

Diagnosis and treatment

The diagnostic tests to detect the presence of H. pylori include

1. Stool Test: 

In infected individuals, the stool test would indicate the presence of H. pylori proteins in the faeces.

2. Blood Test: 

The blood tests are often carried out to detect the presence of the H. pylori antibodies in the infected person (children or adults).

3. Endoscopy: 

An endoscopy which is used to study the oesophagus, stomach, and duodenum internally can play a pivotal role in the detection of any abnormalities (inflammation, ulcer or other associated conditions) indicative of the presence of H. pylori.

4. Breath tests: 

Here the person concerned is made to drink a solution containing urea. The presence of carbon (H. pylori breaks down urea into carbon) indicates the individual infected by H. pylori.

In the case of children, the treatment depends on various factors including

- Age of the child.

- The sensitivity of the child towards certain drugs, therapies, and medicines.

- The H. pylori bacteria is known to enhance the production of the acids in the stomach that causes inflammation and peptic ulcers. Thus, in most cases, medicines are given to slow down or inhibit the acid production which includes

- Histamine blockers (H2-blockers): As the name suggests, these blockers block histamine, thereby significantly controlling the production of acid by the stomach.

- Certain protective shields can also be used that safeguards the lining of the stomach from the harmful effects of the stomach acids and the H. pylori bacteria.

- The use of proton pump inhibitors can also go a long way to cease the acid production by the stomach.

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