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Bacteria, not stress, causes ulcers, research shows

August 30, 1996
Web posted at: 1:15 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Rhonda Rowland


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (CNN) -- Until recently, most doctors blamed stomach ulcers on lifestyle habits -- what you eat or how you handle stress. Now, doctors say, ulcers aren't your fault and many can be cured.

Take the case of Terry Fleming-Ray. Like many prone to ulcers, in her search for a diagnosis she traveled a frustrating, bumpy road, going from one doctor to another. (219K AIFF or WAV sound)

After 10 years of suffering, Fleming-Ray finally discovered what was causing the pain: an ulcer. But what was surprising was the cause -- a bacteria called Helicobacter Pylori, or H.Pylori.

Dr. Ben Gold of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that bacteria -- easily treatable with antibiotics -- is the culprit behind many "primary" ulcers in adults and children.


A Virginia doctor, Barry Marshall, discovered the bacteria cause nearly 15 years ago, but until recently, many doctors weren't convinced.

"Doctors used to think they could manipulate the patient's environment by telling him to stop being under stress, be a little more laid back, go on a holiday," Marshall said. "But really, none of those things made much difference."

Antibiotic treatment

For patients diagnosed with ulcers, antibiotic treatment is prescribed. Fleming-Ray took antibiotics for 21 days.

"It's a lot of drugs," she says. "It's real intense. I was taking probably about 20 pills a day."

Most people have side effects; Fleming-Ray says the drugs made her feel ill.

bacteria cultures

Although doctors hope the antibiotics will cure ulcers, that's not always possible. Fleming-Ray still takes acid- lowering drugs from time to time.

The next step for researchers is to find out how people pick up H.Pylori. As is true in Fleming-Ray's case, it tends to run in families.

Now that they know about H.Pylori, researchers say it's only a matter of time until they eradicate it.


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