Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Day 746 - Helicobacter Pylori

“While "stress" was a popular basis for stomach ulcers years ago, Helicobacter Pylori has become a primary cause for peptic and duodenal ulcers since its discovery by two Australian doctors, Robin Warren, M.D., and Barry Marshall, M.D., in the early 80's.

Helicobacter pylori is a spiral shaped bacterium that lives in the stomach and duodenum. It used to be thought that the stomach contained no bacteria and was actually sterile, but Helicobacter pylori changed that.

The stomach is protected from its own gastric juice by a thick layer of mucus that covers the stomach lining. Helicobacter pylori takes advantage of this protection by living in the mucus lining. Once H. pylori is safely ensconced in the mucus, it is able to fight the stomach acid that does reach it with an enzyme it possesses called urease.

Another defense H. pylori has is that the body's natural defenses cannot reach the bacterium in the mucus lining of the stomach. The immune system will respond to an H. pylori infection by sending white cells, killer T cells, and other infection fighting agents. However, these potential H. pylori eradicators cannot reach the infection, because they cannot easily get through stomach lining. They do not go away either, though, and the immune response grows and grows. Polymorphs die, and spill their destructive compounds (superoxide radicals) on stomach lining cells. Extra nutrients are sent to reinforce the white cells, and the H. pylori can feed on this. within a few days, gastritis and perhaps eventually a peptic ulcer results. It may not be H. pylori itself which causes peptic ulcer, but the inflammation of the stomach lining; i.e. the response to H. pylori.

H. pylori is believed to be transmitted orally. Many researchers think that H, pylori is transmitted orally by means of fecal matter through the ingestion of waste tainted food or water."*


I had an endoscopy a couple of weeks ago and, sure enough, I have Helicobacter Pilori and bad stomach acidity. The gastroenterologist prescribed some antibiotics for two weeks, which I have just finished taking today.

The medicines have made me feel drowsy and have, on occasion, strengthened the headache. On the plus side, the severe stomach pain has gone, and now only a feeling of mild discomfort remains. I have also been prescribed some acid-reducing medicines which I need to take for the next few weeks.

Given that 50% of the world’s population is infected with H. Pilori and the majority are asymptomatic, I have no idea how long I have had the bacteria for. It may be that I have been harbouring it for months, or even years, and that it only started manifesting symptoms as of late.

I recently read that there is a connection between H. Pilori and headaches: “It is not clear how Helicobacter pylori infections cause headaches and migraines. However studies have shown that migraines can clear once Helicobacter has been eradicated. It is likely that immune responses, hormone imbalances and neural factors caused by Helicobacter contribute to the development of headaches. For example, digestive infections can cause low progesterone women and it is well known that progesterone deficiency can cause headaches, particularly during the second half of the menstrual cycle. In addition, food sensitivities, possibly triggered by H. pylori may also contribute to headaches and migraines.”*

In theory, the antibioitics should by now have killed H. Pilori which means that if the headache is in any way connected to the bacteria, then my headache should have gone (which it hasn’t). There is nonetheless a chance H. Pilori is still present and I need to get re-tested in three months’ time to see whether this is the case.