Stomach Ulcer Symptoms

Related to H pylori or not? The answer is not as easy as we once thought.

For those of you who do not know, I am a medical researcher by trade and love reading a good research paper. Recently, I discovered a paper on something known as “The African Enigma”. This article basically turns the world of H. pylori research on its head.

If you are not familiar with what I am talking about, H pylori has become a very popularly topic in the research world of late, and is thought to be the primary cause of stomach ulcer symptoms. In fact, the researchers to who brought this conclusion to the limelight were recently awarded the Nobel Prize. Current medical treatment now focuses on combating H pylori infections when we are presented with a case on stomach ulcers.

The paper reported that nearly everyone on the continent of Africa is infected with H pylori – the infection rates are anywhere from 50-90% depending on the location. Compare that to the United States, which boasts infection rates of about 20%. Most modernized countries have similar rates of infections.

You may be thinking, no big deal, Africa has higher infection rates for a lot of diseases. Not necessarily in all cases, and here is where the paper gets really interesting: peptic ulcer rates in Africa are no higher than in modernized countries such as the UK, and in some cases ulcer rates are even lower in Africa.

If you are not following the logic here, let me break it down for you:

  • In the USA and UK we treat ulcers by trying to combat infections of H pylori. These treatment cycles This seems to be effective, but both infections and ulcers have a high recurrence rate.
  • In Africa, nearly everyone has H pylori, but ulcers are quite rare there. This benefits does not seem to extend to native Africans living abroad.
  • Stomach ulcer symptoms and stomach discomfort are similar in Africa as in other countries, despite the much higher incidence rate of H pylori in Africa.

This leaves us with a stick situation! On one hand, here in New Mexico, we often treat H pylori just to get rid of chronic stomach aches, whereas in Africa stomach aches are just as common as they are here, despite nearly everyone having H pylori!

The bottom line is we might indeed be chasing down the wrong bacteria. Even more interesting is the possibility that H pylori is beneficial in some populations rather than harmful; H pylori infections reduce the risk rate for GERD and heartburn.

Only through more research will we be able to get a clearer picture of the H pylori conundrum.