My H. Pylori symptoms, how it affected my autoimmune disease, and the one clue that made me get tested for a H. Pylori infection.
In all my years of autoimmunity, I never struggled with major gut-related symptoms. Everything seemed to work fine in the bowel department. I had some heart burn but that went away after eliminating dairy from my diet.
Well, that’s not the case anymore. And now, I have a whole new appreciation for all the folks dealing with gut issues.
I’m about to get real in this post, just FYI. You can only dance around the subject of poop and flatulence so much, but the details are needed to adequately explain my symptoms. I promise it will be brief and to the point.
But let’s start from the top…
I have an H. Pylori infection.
It took me a good year and a half to figure it all out. The real kicker is that I could’ve found out a couple months sooner, had I tested. But in case you are unfamiliar, or need a refresher, let’s learn more about the bacterial culprit.
What is H. Pylori?
Helicobacter pylori is a pathogenic bacteria that generally infects the stomach, but can also be found in other areas of the gastrointestinal tract.
The bacterium is a spiral (helical) shape and burrows itself into the lining of stomach. When it’s there, it produces an enzyme called urease. This enzyme neutralizes stomach acid (making it less acidic) and weakens the stomach lining.1
As a result, the stomach becomes more sensitive to strong digestive fluids, which can cause stomach ulcers/sores or inflammation (gastritis). It can also lead to leaky gut, one of the main culprits behind autoimmune disease, and food sensitivities… which many people with autoimmune disease suffer from (including me).
H. Pylori and the Autoimmune Disease Connection
I first learned about H. Pylori from Dr. Izabella Wentz’s books about Hashimoto’s Disease. Ever since, I have seen it repeated over and over again by practitioners and in health journals as a common infection associated with autoimmune disease.
In this study, for example, an H. Pylori infection was markedly increased in autoimmune atrophic thyroiditis patients, in comparison to the non-autoimmune control patients.
And this analysis of data suggests that H. Pylori seropositivity was associated with higher odds of ANA antibodies.
Treatment can result in clinical improvement of the severity of some autoimmune diseases.
Now to the story.
My First H. Pylori Symptoms
So, here’s how it all began.
Or, if I want to be somewhat scientific… “offensive flatulence”.
To the point where I was purposely shying away from social events because I knew I wouldn’t have many options to plan my exit when I needed to let one go.
These were “offensive” enough to clear a room, or perhaps make people think there was some sort of gas leak in the house, or a sewage problem (which, in a way, were true in both cases).
I also didn’t think much of it because I was about 6 months post-partum and I know a fair share of women with the same exact problem (one who actually DID make someone think there was a gas leak in the building).
I thought it was hormonal, and maybe it was… at first. Until it didn’t go away.
The next symptom that popped up was burping. CONSTANT burping, even on an empty stomach. I would wake up and immediately start burping. If I drank water, it was even worse.
This was odd… but not enough to make me think something was wrong.
But then, things took a turn for the worse in the bowel department, and I started to have diarrhea on a daily basis, accompanied with a dull ache in my lower abdomen.
Hmmm. Now things didn’t seem “normal”, even for being post-partum.
My H. Pylori Clue
I knew something was amiss, and I thought it could be SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) or H. Pylori. Possibly a hiatal hernia, too.
While pondering what test I wanted to order to determine what it was, my daughter gave me the clue I needed.
Soon, she started burping and running to the bathroom (full sprint) on a daily basis. So, whatever I had, she now had, too.
Since H. Pylori is contagious and it’s pretty easy to be exposed (especially if someone else in the house has it), I decided to test for it.
Testing for H. Pylori
There are many ways to test for H. Pylori:
- Blood antigen test: checks for H. Pylori antibodies, but may pick up both past and current infections.
- Carbon urea breath test: requires you to swallow a pill or liquid with tagged carbon molecules, and then measures certain substances in your breath to check for infection.
- Stool antigen test: checks for H. Pylori antigens/proteins in your stool. This was the test selected as the best and most cost-effective way to test for H. Pylori during a 2-day workshop dedicated to analyzing the available testing options.
- Endoscopy: requires sedation so the doctor can thread an endoscope down your throat and esophagus into the stomach to see if there are any physical irregularities and also to grab a tissue sample for a biopsy to be analyzed for infection.
I chose the poop (stool) option because it’s easy. No sedation or pills/liquid required. And the kit was sent to my house, so I didn’t have to worry about making an appointment at a lab.
I ordered the test from DirectLabs, and chose the Diagnostic Solutions H. Pylori test. (I included a screenshot below in case you are interested.)
While I was waiting for the results (which eventually came back as positive), my symptoms morphed into a big, ugly mess of things I’ve never experienced before.
More of My (Ugly) H. Pylori Symptoms
- EXTREME Anxiety – Okay, so this one I have actually had before when I was on too much thyroid medication (see this post), but I think this type of anxiety was even worse. This was 1000 normal anxiety events of my past all wrapped into one, and I don’t even know why! I would constantly be taking deep breaths trying to calm myself down. After a few weeks of these occurrences, I eventually realized it was 100% gut related because every time I had a horrible day of diarrhea, burping, or stomach pain, I also had extreme anxiety. If my gut was calm, then I didn’t have it. So, if you have ultra-mega anxiety AND gut issues, be sure to keep this in mind!
- Stomach pain – right under the rib cage. Like a tiny saw was in my stomach, trying to cut through my stomach lining. H. Pylori burrows itself into the stomach lining, and it felt like I could feel the burrowing. I should mention here that stomach pain is a hallmark symptom of H. Pylori, especially if the pain improves or feels better after eating.
Then, I got relief from the pain, but only because a new symptom took over:
- BURNING – Burning in my stomach, that radiated into my esophagus and into my throat. Like dragon breath.
- Lump-in-my-throat-feeling – I am assuming this was caused by “silent reflux”, also known as Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR), which is when the stomach acid moves up into your esophagus and causes inflammation. This can also cause hoarseness in your voice, coughing, and difficult swallowing – which can then lead to panic because you think your throat might be closing.
Both of these symptoms are likely a result of low stomach acid (which I really want to point out, because many people think heartburn/reflux is a result of too much stomach acid, and that’s not necessarily the case! Read on…).
The H. Pylori can neutralize stomach acid, which means you’ll have lower levels of stomach acid than normal.
When this happens, the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) gets lazy and lets stomach acid come up from the stomach into your esophagus, which then causes burning and inflammation. You need an adequate amount of stomach acid to keep the LES working correctly.
So, along those lines, I also noticed that I wasn’t just burping “empty” burps anymore, but I was also starting to burp up undigested food. It was gross and really uncomfortable. I didn’t want to eat anymore.
On top of it, I noticed food just “sat” in my stomach and felt like it didn’t move for hours, especially if there was a lot of fat in the meal (like coconut cream/milk or avocado), indicating I had fat malabsorption, which was likely a result of the low stomach acid.
I was so bloated and felt like my insides were filled with slow-moving sludge… and that’s exactly how it all came out too. (TMI, I know, but I need to share these things so you know my real symptoms!).
Looking back now, I realize this was all likely a result of low stomach acid. I couldn’t digest anything because I didn’t have the stomach acid I needed. So, nothing was broken down properly, and it all sat idle.
This also led to fatigue, especially after eating, probably because my body was putting ALL of its energy into trying to break down this undigested food.
These were my personal H. Pylori symptoms, but some other common H. Pylori symptoms are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Multiple food sensitivities
Evidence in My Bloodwork
Clearly, something was wrong, and aside from my positive H. Pylori stool test, I also saw evidence in my routine bloodwork.
The most apparent marker was my ANA antibodies, which have stayed at 1:80 since testing positive 3 years ago. They climbed to 1:320 in a matter of months.
I have a few other low-level positive antibodies associated with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease and those did not budge very much. Two went down slightly (DsDNA and Chromatin). Another went up slightly (RNP). But nothing extreme. The ANA was the biggest mover.
My iron levels, which were already low from my last pregnancy, increased only slightly after I gave birth, but then started to dip again.
H. Pylori can cause anemia, and I have a personal history (and extensive family history) of struggling with low iron levels anyways, so this was really quite unfortunate. Oral iron supplementation, in this situation, only made my gut feel worse.
In addition, my homocysteine levels were high… something that hasn’t happened in years. I am not sure if this is associated with the H. Pylori itself, or if it was a result of not being able to properly absorb nutrients due to the low stomach acid. I’ve successfully managed homocysteine levels over the years through diet and Methylfolate/B12 supplementation.
Thankfully, all of my other inflammatory markers (such as C-reactive protein) were normal.
To Treat a H. Pylori Infection? Not to Treat? How to Treat?
According to a meta-analysis published in 2018, a rather large portion (44%) of the world’s population has H. Pylori.
There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not H. Pylori is always harmful.
Certainly, an overgrowth may cause symptoms, such as in my case, but if it’s just hanging out and not really doing anything… is it necessary to treat? Could it actually be beneficial if it’s not causing problems? This is something that is still being investigated.
I’ve personally seen some doctors/practitioners treat ALL cases of H. Pylori, even if they are not symptomatic, and I’ve seen others let it go if there are no symptoms. Our family doctors tend to side with treating only if symptomatic.
For me (and my daughter), the typical H. Pylori symptoms were there and very uncomfortable, so we felt it was necessary to treat both of us.
For my daughter, treatment was simple and effective on the first try. We used:
- Black cumin seed oil: 1 gram in the morning and 1 gram at night
- S. Boulardii: 1 small scoop (600mg) in the morning and 1 small scoop at night
- Sulforaphane (we use the BrocElite brand): 1 capsule at night
**I should also mention that these supplements were used in addition to a low-sugar, whole-food, gluten-free and dairy-free diet, along with plenty of sleep and additional targeted supplementation unique to her. If we had not been doing these other things, I am not sure the above supplements would have worked as well or as quickly.
Her symptoms were gone in less than a week.
But for me… it was not so simple and I didn’t have such great luck at the beginning. Now, after about 6 months, I think I finally found the combination of remedies, supplements, diet, etc. that is working as I have been symptom-free for about 6 weeks. I am currently writing a post about it and will link to it when it’s done.
So… Stay tuned! 🙂
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Hi! I’m Anna, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. After managing my own autoimmune diseases using lifestyle, habit, and mindset changes, I now work to teach others how to navigate the treacherous and confusing journey of chronic illness living. I firmly believe YOU hold the power to question, think critically, and become your own rock-solid advocate in a world full of unhealthy habits, so you can find the healing you deserve.