The True Cause of Ulcers


The discovery of the bacterium Heliobacter pylori (H. pylori) is one of the most significant medical discoveries of the 20th century. It had been widely believed that gastric ulcers and chronic gastritis were caused by stress or diet. Then, in the early 1980s, Australian doctors Barry Marshall and Robin Warren found a strong correlation in people with gastritis with the presence of the bacterium. Initially they were dismissed as crackpots by the medical establishment but were eventually proven right.

H. pylori causes almost all peptic ulcers, accounting for 80 per cent of stomach ulcers and more than 90 per cent of duodenal ulcers. H. pylori infection is common in North America: about 20 per cent of people under 40 and half of people over 60 are infected with it. Most do not develop ulcers. Why this is so is unknown but it may depend on characteristics of the infected person, the type of H. pylori and other factors yet to be discovered. Researchers are not certain how people become infected but suspect it may be through food or water. It's been found in some infected people's saliva, so the bacteria may also spread through mouth-to-mouth contact such as kissing.

H. pylori weakens the protective mucous coating of the stomach and duodenum, which allows acid to get through to the sensitive lining beneath. Both the acid and the bacteria irritate the lining and cause a sore, or ulcer. H. pylori is able to survive in stomach acid because it secretes enzymes that neutralize the acid. This mechanism allows the bacterium to make its way to the protective mucous lining, where its shape helps it burrow.

Pain is the most common symptom:

A dull, gnawing ache

Comes and goes for several days or weeks

Occurs two to three hours after a meal

Occurs in the middle of the night (when the stomach is empty)

Is relieved by food

Other symptoms include:

Weight loss

Poor appetite





Some people experience only very mild symptoms or none at all.

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