Archive for April 24th, 2010



[Picture of Barry Marshall discoverer of Helicobacter Pylori]Barry Marshall is a real  hero; he’s the man who utterly changed my life. I would like to thank him here, and not just for me but for my wife and family.

Aged just 14, I fell ill and my GP eventually diagnosed an ulcer and referred me for the standard test. The hospital gave me  stuff to expand my stomach, then I was given barium meal and x-rayed. The stomach ulcer was confirmed.  No big deal; most of my siblings had stomach ulcers.  So we shared “Tagamet” (Cimetidine), Zantac (ranitidine hydrochloride), Asilone, and almost every other over-the-counter antacid, heartburn, dyspepsia and pain relief drug too.

Everyone was told that they would just have to “live with the condition”, and that is exactly what we all did

From the tender pre-pubescent age of 14, I had to watch what I ate and drank, and I took a lot of drugs all the time. I vomited every day at least once — and in fact I could vomit on cue.  I was resigned to this for the rest of my life.

[Picture of Tagamet pill]Living with a severe stomach ulcer from such a young age definitely had a massive effect on my life and choices.  I was quick to anger and when I snapped I was outrageously aggressive, insulting and violent.  Knowing this, I had to avoid lots of “normal” work and social situations, and I had to learn workarounds for stressful events. I was the only pupil at my High School who was actually allowed to do what he wanted; I was allowed to miss classes and even leave the school grounds!

I couldn’t touch alcohol or so-called recreational drugs, and my stomach pains would wake me, so I slept little.  I lived in fear of choking on my own vomit, so I took to sleeping without a pillow, and then flat on the floor.  Everyone is different, so I had to discover what worked for me by trial and error.  I found that cigarettes and coffee did not make me feel worse, but they helped me stay alert through long hours at night when I was awake.  I could not eat spicy food at all, and many simple foods gave me indigestion, heartburn or made me physically sick. I was living on very plain breads and cake, chocolate, some pasta and eggs.  I only ever drank coffee.

[Picture of Zantac pill]Over ten years — ten years of puberty, exams, dating, leaving home, and more — not just ten years, but the most formative and important ten years in human life, I suffered. Until one day I happened to watch a show in the TV series called “Heretics”.  The show was about ulcers, so I was hooked and watched it with great interest.  It described the consensus about ulcers, their cause and treatment. Then it introduced a young Australian physician called Dr Barry Marshall and his heretical theory.

[Picture of Helicobacter Pylori under microscope]Marshall had dared to question the dominant ideology, the dogma, the accepted truth about ulcers.  He asked the question, “what if gastrointestinal ulcers are caused by a bug, instead of bad lifestyles and stress?” .  I was interested, so I sat up and took notes.  Marshall found that a bug did cause our stomach ulcers, and it was called Helicobacter Pylori.   The TV show said that it could be ingested from “bad water” during the war and passed on to the offspring, so I told everyone I knew about this.

[Picture of wonder drug amoxillin]Articles began appearing in magazines throughout the end of the 1980s and start of the 1990s, but my GP was not convinced; he was old and fuddly duddy.   He simply would not look at the video cassette tape or magazines I brought along. Meanwhile my entire family went to their GPs, got a quick diagnostic test and put onto a weak dose of Amoxillin along with Losec (and sometimes other things to help with the side effects of Amoxillin), the treatment times varied from a fortnight to a month.

Unfortunately, this was not my experience.  Not with my old GP. I think the difference was that I was the only one of my family in the Glasgow area, the rest were in Renfrewshire. As Glasgow was something of a centre for the breath test diagnostic tool for this bug, I was referred to a team of specialists.  I had endoscopies and filled in loads of forms, and I think they were more concerned with my cigarette smoking habit than anything else.  One day I snapped,  I just scraped back my chair, told them where to shove it all, and quit the program!

Co-incidentally at this time my old GP retired and the replacement was a lady GP cum television personality — I rarely saw her as she was always too busy being on the telly, but the upside was that I got to see a young, fresh team of locums!  I was given a simple finger-prick blood test to confirm the presence of Helicobacter Pylori, and given a week long course of  strong dose Amoxillin/ Losec and Metronidazole.

This was the mid-nineties, and I was seriously affected by these drugs — what a week that was!  I would forget where I was working, I would also forget how to get home!  I had the runs a bit at the start, and I am sure I messed up the dosages.  How on earth I kept on working (how they let me) is amazing yet.

After the week, I was re-tested, and the bug  was gone.  I was feeling well and free from side effects — despite being told that I would most likely remain impotent and possibly even develop a fine pair of breasts! After three days, I ate my very first pain-free Indian curry, and I drank my first lager — with no problem. It dawned on me that my life had dramatically changed.

[Picture fo dental inspection]My teeth were considerably worn from grinding and the effects of stomach acid from vomiting daily for twenty years, I would never get them back. I would never get my teens back either , but I had a great time in my late 30s and early 40s — I was fit, healthy, single, earning a fortune and in with a damn good bunch of very sound mates.

[Picture of me smoking]Over the next ten years, I stopped shaking my leg whenever I sat down, I quit smoking cigarettes, I put on weight, grew up, and settled down as myself — and it is all down to Barry Marshall.

Having a stomach ulcer and getting it cured is something I found in common with my wife, and it formed a real bond between us, the recognition of the condition and how it made us what we have become was pretty important I think; we “get each other”.  Some people have the bug, but do not suffer as the ulcer is not near the most sensitive nerves.  My wife and I suffered, let me tell you that much!

Part of my growing up phase at this time was to realise that the NHS had failed me, and to realise that the drug companies had been instrumental in stopping Marshall’s work getting recognised.  The drugs market for  Zantac and Tagamet was worth billions each year to the pharmaceuticals industry.  As stomach ulcer drugs, Zantac and Tagamet were only available with prescription, but when their licence expired, there were suddenly re-branded as mere “antacids” — and freely available over-the-counter!  And Marshall’s work was finally recognised! This was a rude awakening to me; I was a schmuck, a patsy for these guys to make money on my suffering and dependency on their products.  Over the years I must have spent thousands. I reserve the right to be cynical.

[Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde -- the potion]However, Barry Marshall is the corrective element to restore my equilibrium.  Yeah, sure, Barry asked the question, found that stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria, and was hounded as a heretic — but what he did that amazed me the most was that this young physician deliberately infected himself with Helicobacter Pylori, and then cured himself with antibiotics.  This is going the extra mile in my humble opinion.  He did that for me and for everyone out there with stomach ulcers, and I salute him for that.

The Australian group ultimately demonstrated that eradication of H. pylori (then known as Campylobacter pylori) by a bismuth-containing regimen was associated with ulcer healing and a low rate of relapse, and results were further improved by the addition of an antibiotic.
[Lancet. 1988;2:1437-1442].

“So, there you have it: Antibiotics cure peptic ulcer. But we weren’t allowed to say that in print,” said Dr Marshall, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
It was several years before editors would let you mention cure when talking about ulcers
[Lancet. 1990;335:1233-1235].”

Barry J. Marshall got the Nobel Prize in 2005 along with his colleague Robin Warren.  Rightly so too for at least half the world’s population are infected by the bacterium, making it the most widespread infection in the world. It is easily passed via dental plaque and faeces, as well as being hereditary. I am just so thankful that my wife and I am not in the infected half any more, and that the chances or recurrence are slight. We just have to keep an eye on the kids.  I am eternally grateful to Warren and Marshall — but especially Marshall for going that extra mile.


Lancet. 1984 Jun 16;1(8390):1311-5.

Unidentified curved bacilli in the stomach of patients with gastritis and peptic ulceration.

Marshall BJ, Warren JR.