IN A HEARTBEAT
Heartburn, colic, acid reflex, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, stomach ulcers — in Mexico they are all common medical concerns.
In fact, according to the National Social Security Institute (IMSS), about 70 percent of all Mexicans suffer from some form of gastric disorder each year, due in large part to poor sanitary conditions, spicy diets, infections, tobacco consumption, alcohol consumption, certain medications and/or stress.
And while most of these conditions can be treated with a simple over-the-counter antacid or other drugs, if symptoms persist for longer than four weeks, medical experts say you should consult a physician to make sure that your gastric disorder is not a indicator of a more serious health concern.
“Gastritis is the 10th-most common cause for going to the doctor in Mexico,” explained Erik Rebolledo Garduño, a surgical gastroenterologist at the Hospital Angeles Metropolitano during a presentation of Gelan Plus, a new fast-acting gel antacid from the Mexican pharmaceutical company Chinoin.
“And it tends to effect women nearly twice as much as men.”
Gastritis is a catch term that has been used to describe any number of stomach problems, but is generally considered to be a condition in which the stomach lining becomes inflamed and irritated.
Gastritis can be either acute or chronic, and left untreated, chronic gastritis can cause the stomach lining to wear away or erode, which leader to ulcers or deep sores.
One of the most common causes of gastritis in Mexico is the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria, which can lead to peptic ulcers.
“About 70 percent of Mexicans are infected with the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, and in many cases, the bacteria does no serious harm to their stomachs,” said Jesús Manuel Ruíz Rosillo, a medical pharmacologist and head of pharmaceutical compliance for Chinoin.
“But when there is a problem such as epigastric pain or acid-reflex, it could suggest that there are ulcers, and they should be treated.”
Rebolledo Garduño said that treatment of ulcers is vital because if they burst or penetrate through the stomach they can cause the harsh abdominal acids to erode other organs and can even lead to death.
Diagnosis of an ulcer is by endoscopy and a test for the H. pylori bacteria.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, the normal treatment for an H. pylori ulcer was surgery, but now the standard treatment is with medications,” said Rebolledo Garduño.
“Today, less than 2 percent of these patients will require surgery.”
Many patients can have ulcers for some time without knowing it.
The major symptom is a gnawing or burning pain in the middle or upper abdomen, usually at night or between meals.
Some patients also experience heartburn, bloating, nausea or vomiting.
The pain comes from the ulcer itself and from the irritation that results when stomach acids come in contact with the ulcerated area.
Since the late 1970s, ulcer patients have been treated with a series of medications to inhibit acid production (H-2 blockers such as Tagamet, Pepcid or Zantac) and proton pump inhibitors (such as Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec).
Ruíz Rosillo pointed out that Gelen Plus is an antacid that begins working within 10 minutes and can be used in conjunction with H-2 blockers and/or proton pump inhibitors and has the added advantage of being a surface treatment, which means that it will not migrate to other organs and can be used by patients with hypertension or diabetes.
But in the early 1980s, Australian physicians Barry Marshall and Robin Warren discovered that 80 to 90 percent of ulcers are caused by an H. pylori infection.
Ulcers from H. pylori infections are usually treated with antibiotics, along with additional medications to reduce stomach acid.
Not all people infected with H. pylori develop ulcers, but nearly all suffer gastritis at one time or another.
They also have an increased risk of gastric cancer.
“Remember, if you have constant gastritis, see a physician,” said Rebolledo Garduño.
“But if your problem is only occasional, you can usually treat it with an over-the-counter medication like Gelan Plus.”