Doctors and pharmaceutical companies have been slow to respond to growing evidence that peptic ulcers are better treated with antibiotics, rather than the traditional antacids.
FOR MORE than two decades, physicians have believed peptic ulcers to be caused by an excess of acids in the stomach, for which they have been prescribing antacids -- substances that treat acidity -- as a cure. But now it has been found that a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori is the culprit, and can be combatted only with antibiotics (Science, Vol 260, No 5105).
However, despite compelling evidence, most physicians and drug companies are reluctant to forsake antacids in favour of antibiotics. While some are not convinced that H pylori causes ulcers, still others simply haven't heard about the bacterium (Down to Earth, August 31, 1992).
Antacids, which are used to treat upto 90 per cent of all peptic ulcers, accounted for a whopping $4.4 billion last year in the US alone. Yet these drugs do not provide sustained relief. The chance of the ulcer recurring is 1 in 2 after six months, while it is almost certain to return after two years.
In contrast, studies reveal that after antibiotic treatment, the chances of an ulcer recurring are 1 in 5. Recently, Enno Hentschel and his colleagues at the Hanusch Hospital and University of Vienna School of Medicine reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that duodenal ulcers recurred in only 8 per cent of patients put on antibiotics -- compared with 86 per cent of patients taking antacids.
Few clinics have started prescribing antibiotics for ulcer patients. "Our view is that if you get rid of the bacterium, you get rid of the ulcer once and for all," says Nicholas J Talley, associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in USA.
Meanwhile, scientists are interrogating H Pylori for more information as a key question remains unsolved: How is the bacterium transmitted?
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.