Blame it on the bacteria. Halitosis, the medical term for bad breath, may be a symptom of H. pylori infection, according to researchers in Turkey.
The bacteria Helicobacter pylori is the most common cause of stomach ulcers, sores that develop in the stomach lining. About 20 million Americans develop at least one ulcer during their lifetime. More than 40,000 people a year have surgery because of ulcer-related problems, and about 6,000 die of ulcer-related complications. H. pylori infection can cause serious problems like gastritis, and may increase the risk of stomach cancer, but it is often treatable with antibiotics and proton-pump inhibitors.
If halitosis sometimes indicates H. pylori infection, it may increase physicians’ ability to diagnose and treat the bacteria early.
The study was conducted by a research team from Baskent University in Turkey and published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine. It involved 148 people with halitosis and a type of indigestion called dyspepsia. Their symptoms were assessed, and all participants were given treatment to eradicate H. pylori. Four weeks later, researchers assessed their symptoms again.
Before the treatment, halitosis was the third most common symptom reported, after bloating and pain, with 60 percent of patients complaining of bad breath. Afterwards, many participants reported that their bad breath was gone.
"In patients with confirmed H. pylori eradication, the most successfully resolved symptoms were halitosis and hunger-like pain," the researchers, led by Dr. Ender Serin, wrote.
The researchers wrote that bad breath is a "frequent but treatable symptom" of H. pylori infection, and they hope it "may be a valid indication" of infection with the bacteria.
Professor John Summerfield, a gastroenterologist at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London, expressed skepticism. "I've certainly never heard of halitosis associated with H. pylori. The trouble is halitosis is so subjective," Summerfield told Reuters Health. "It's a perception rather than a real thing. Everybody's breath smells to a certain extent."