Understanding adult peptic ulcers and infant pyloric stenosis

As a boy I remember my heart churning and racing when I overheard my parents talking about my namesake uncle in the Netherlands having a peptic ulcer and facing surgery for this.

Although my parents would never tell me much about the kanji-like scar on my belly from an infant pyloric stenosis operation and didn’t tell me much about my uncle’s problem, I immediately sensed some kinship.  It was obvious that I had also had a stomach operation… maybe my uncle Fred and I would have similar scars?  Migration to Australia had taken my family half a world away from our Dutch relatives so I assumed I’d never find out.  In the 1950s people didn’t talk about such personal and medical matters, and they certainly didn’t post “selfies” on Facebook.

However, two decades later my uncle visited us in Australia and during a hot summer day’s outing my young family together with my parents and Dutch uncle and aunt enjoyed a swim… and I had confirmation at last!  Despite the usual male body hair I had a glimpse of my uncle’s similar vertical scar.  (It looked tidier and a lot smaller than mine!)  Of course I kept my deeply unloved scar hidden and didn’t dare to talk: I was too choked with shame and other emotions.  Besides this, I was around age 30 and my uncle was 43 years older than me, and I’d come to know him as a friendly but very distinguished man.

I treasured but filed the link away and thought little more about it until 30 years later…

Genes baby1When I started researching PS and related issues on the web in 1997, I soon learnt that sometimes there is a genetic element causing it, and that although a family link is not discovered in the majority of cases, five genetic loci have been identified as having possible links with the development of PS.

I have not heard of anyone else on either side of my family tree having PS and this suggests that there is no clear genetic factor in my story.  There are a few other recognized risk factors which do apply to me: male, firstborn, Caucasian, and maternal stress make a substantial list.

But more recently I discovered a small number of medical journal articles reporting infant PS and peptic ulcers occurring in adulthood in the same families.  Contact me for links if some case stories would be of interest.

Peptic ulcer3And then my web searches yielded a 2007 article written by a retired professor, Dr Ian M Rogers – and since added to by an interview and another article.  Dr Rogers has proposed hyperacidity as the key cause of PS and as the consistently demonstrable link between virtually all that we know about the symptoms and incidence of PS.  His theory also argues that hyperacidity explains why in some families PS can occur in babies and gastric ulcers in adults.

A search of the web will show that Dr Rogers and others have been studying the link between gastric acidity and PS since at least the 1970s and that Dr Rogers’ thinking and knowledge of this have been developing throughout his professional life.  Again, contact me for links if you are interested.

Peptic ulcers of the stomach, pylorus and duodenum are now a very much reduced threat thanks to the discovery that the presence of a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, was usually needed to develop an ulcer from hyperacidity.  H. pylori is now treated with antibiotics in most or many cases, avoiding the need for a surgical remedy.

This gives me a new line to explore when I reconnect (as planned) with my Dutch relatives in 2014: apart from my uncle’s peptic ulcer is there evidence of hyperacidity or even PS in my Dutch family?

Some readers may be more than interested in building a similar knowledge of their genetic legacy!

The answers to this line of information will help my family and other present and future generations to –

  • better understand the risk profile of their family members,
  • simplify and speed up the diagnosis and management of PS in infants and of hyperacidity and its possible damage in adults, and
  • reduce the likelihood of PS developing to the extent that surgery is considered or recommended for babies, whether actually necessary or not.

The more we know and understand about PS and its related issues, the more we can do to manage it with less cost, upheaval and trauma for baby and parents alike.

3 thoughts on “Understanding adult peptic ulcers and infant pyloric stenosis

  1. Wendy Williams

    Fascinating post about your ties to your uncle. Gosh, I know that feeling of my stomach sinking when I hear of a stomach condition developing in a relative and feeling terrified something will go wrong because of our early PS problem. To my knowledge though, no one in my family had PS as a baby. (Our family though has a big history of infant deaths in the late 1800s and early 1900s from allergies to cow milk.) I don’t recall anyone in my family having an ulcer either; on the other hand, in general, those things were not talked about. I would have had to overhear it in a conversation my mother might have had with one of my relatives on the phone or with my father. So about your trip, will you be asking relatives more about your uncle’s PS surgery? Did he have a child or children? I wonder if they know about his early operation. I bookmarked Dr. Rogers’ interview and article. The link to your earlier post explaining Dr. Rogers’ work did not work for me. It’s great that you are reporting more about Dr. Rogers’ work. Thank you.

  2. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    You are so right when you observe that today’s generation knows very little about the health heritage (amongst others, probably) of our forebears: They didn’t know anything like what we do, hardly talked about what they did know, and more often than not used folksy, inaccurate descriptions of the conditions that troubled them,
    As you know, we plan to revisit the Netherlands in 2014 and I will do what I can to grow my knowledge of my family’s medical stories, about which my Australian family knows almost nothing. However, when I tried to “dig” for my own story in 2011, I found that one key person had gone (perhaps died, perhaps moved?) and that my hospital records had been shredded long ago.
    As far as I know, my late uncle did not have PS surgery but peptic ulcer surgery in his later life, something Dr Ian Rogers tells us is related. This uncle has two daughters and one of them has grandchildren, so I’ll start my questions there.
    I’ll check on that missing link and try to restore it: thanks for the advice!


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