Category Archives: Causes

Pregnancy post-Pyloric Stenosis

One of the most visited posts on this blogsite deals with how having had infant Pyloric Stenosis (“PS”) affects pregnancy.

This question must be answered by looking at several aspects –

  • Will the scar hold?
  • What do I need to know about adhesions?
  • Could I pass on my PS to my baby?
  • Reliving the past – and the trauma

Will my scar hold?

The short answer is Yes!

Our skin varies, as do our stretch marks, as do our scars.  Your scar may stretch and it may change in appearance, perhaps permanently, perhaps not.  Or it may stay much the same, which will put extra stress on the surrounding skin and underlying tissue of the stretching abdominal wall.  This may create a different pattern of striae (stretch marks caused by the dermis or outer tissue tearing) from the usual.  So there are several unpredictable possibilities, but one thing does not happen: your scar will not rupture.

When a surgical wound is healing it can rupture and need repair. Inadequate repair of the underlying tissue can cause a post-operative hernia which will sometimes heal without further intervention, sometimes not.

C 16w 2010But once scar tissue has matured (losing its redness takes a year or two) it is harder and tougher than normal tissue and far less likely to rupture than the surrounding tissue.  The stretching of pregnancy may cause itching, pain, or a tearing feeling, especially in the scarred area, but this won’t affect your baby, womb, or pregnancy, and your doctor can promise you this!

This is how one mother answered this question –

My niece has similarities to your situation, here is what happened with her.

Nothing bad happened to her baby and he was able to grow just fine – your scars will not affect your bub.

As her baby grew it stretched her scars causing shooting pains, the pains were only every now and then.  They only caused her to worry because she thought it may not be the scars and maybe it was something wrong with her baby.

Her scars are right through stretching right down the middle of her stomach in a T like form: she had an operation when she was born and then again when she was 5 and her scars are attached to her muscles.  Her stomach also didn’t grow very big compared to most pregnancies, so if your belly gets bigger than hers it may cause a bit more pain than ‘every now and then’ (but that’s just a guess based on no medical knowledge).

Hope this sets your mind at ease, both you and your baby will be fine. (– anon)

What do I need to know about adhesions?

All abdominal surgery triggers the growth of adhesions, a web like formation of tough scar tissue that develops between areas that have been exposed, cut or otherwise affected by the operation.  The organs inside our abdomen don’t like the fresh air and drying that occur during open surgery, nor the gas that’s used to inflate the abdomen for keyhole surgery.

A laparoscopic image of adhesions between the right diaphragm and liver

Everybody develops adhesions after surgery: these link different abdominal organs (e.g. the stomach and gall bladder or liver) or they link one or more of these with the inside of the abdominal wall.  This is noticed in only a minority of cases, but when adhesions make their presence known it can be very troublesome, causing pain and snaring, choking or otherwise disrupting the normal working of our abdominal organs in the affected area.  Adhesions are hard to treat, as surgery to remove them in affected people will inevitably trigger the growth of more of these nasty webs. I have written about adhesions several times – use the Categories or Tags search boxes to find them or go to Dr Google!

Pregnancy may make a woman with PS in her history aware of adhesions that had not troubled her before. She may feel pain or tearing in the region of her scar as her body changes; although this is uncomfortable it is a normal process and not hazardous, and will probably be a temporary although added discomfort of pregnancy.

Because each pregnancy has its own unique character in lots of ways, the pain and tearing sensations of adhesions can come with any but not usually all of her pregnancies.

The best advice for dealing with adhesion and scar pain and itching is what is usually recommended for pregnancy anyway: lots of lotion and lots of massage – which will help some and not others. The end result of the 9 months will we trust be well worth the discomfort and pain.

This is how one mother answered this question –

I am a 36 year old female, with 3 children.  I had my pyloric stenosis operation in 1974, at 6 weeks old.  My scar is now about 5 inches long, a cm wide and has 4 ‘stitch’ marks down either side.  It sits off centre to my right side, vertically.  And without a doubt it is attached to my abdomen at the bottom of the scar!  My mum said it was just about two inches long when first done.

Throughout childhood I complained that my ‘scar’ hurt and this was dismissed by the GP as part of growing!  At 18 I had my first pregnancy, and had a dip in my stomach as it swelled, with a feeling I can only compare to being jabbed with a pin.  It wasn’t so bad with my second child a year later, although the dip was there as stomach grew.  I had my third and last pregnancy at 33 years old, and my last baby was bigger than first two.

I collapsed with severe pain in my middle of right side 2½ years ago, and initially was diagnosed with kidney stones, but the urologist did not think the stones were big enough to cause the pain I was in.  (They were smaller than grain of rice.)  I am now awaiting an endoscopy with a gastroenterologist to see if I may have adhesions.

My scar is definitely pulling upwards towards my right ribs and I am rather unhappy that I have had to suffer for this long to get any answers!  I have been back and forwards between the specialists 4 times now as neither would pin-point pain, but if I were able to ‘operate’ on myself, I am convinced I could put my finger exactly where my pain is!  The pain is at best mild, but can get worse, usually 30-45 mins after eating.  It is constant, but I have learnt to recognise, offset and control it with painkillers.

I have been lucky that none of my children inherited the pyloric stenosis.  I am convinced that my life time of constant stomach problems, cramps, constipation, stabbing pains, nausea, etc etc has been a result of this condition, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone!  Good luck to you all on getting it sorted, and insist on help if your child continues to suffer. (– Kaz)

Could I pass on my PS to my baby?

This is indeed quite possible, and because of the quirkiness of genetics a mother who has a PS history is more likely to have a Py-baby than a father.  It is well-known that 4-5 boys have PS to every girl with it, but part of this means that those girls who do have it carry stronger PS-carrying genes.  Not nice…

The risk is unpredictable, as infant PS is “multi-factorial” and can be caused by non-genetic factors – labelled “environmental” in the medical world, although PS is never caused by what most of us think of as “the environment”!  A woman who belongs to a family tree with another (possible) case of PS is at higher risk than one with “one-of” PS.  So the likelihood of a PS mother having a PS baby varies from almost nil to about 20% according to the several studies that are freely available online, and some few mothers have reported passing on their PS to most or all of their offspring – up to 4 children in a few cases I have on file!

The key thing to remember is: everyone (mother or father) who has had PS can and should be better prepared to give prompt and the best possible care for their new-born Py-baby!

This is how one website answered this question –

  • Pyloric stenosis is the most common infant surgery in the United States after circumcision.
  • Pyloric stenosis reports in the United States have shown as few as 1 case per 3,000-4,000 live births to as many as 8.2-12 cases per 1,000 live births.
  • In general, pyloric stenosis affects approximately three out of every 1,000 infants.
  • If a child with pyloric stenosis is female:
    the likelihood of having a future son with pyloric stenosis is one in five.
    the likelihood of having a future daughter with pyloric stenosis is one in 14.
  • If a child with pyloric stenosis is male:
    the likelihood of having a future son with pyloric stenosis is one in 20.
    the likelihood of having a future daughter with pyloric stenosis is one in 40-50.

Reliving the past – and the guilt and the trauma

Sadly you won’t find this information on the PS-pages of our hospitals’ and paediatricians’ websites …

But having followed what not a few new parents have reported on internet social forums such as BabyCenter, Facebook, MedHelp, Patient, and Reddit, it is abundantly clear that some who have PS in their story struggle with guilt and PTSD, although thankfully not in a life-threatening form.  How many and how severely people are affected in this way is impossible to estimate, as this matter has not been given any academic or statistical study that I have seen.

The now adult Py-baby may find during pregnancy that they (father as well as mother) are painfully reliving their own past, fearful of passing their PS on to their new baby.  It is now known that the fears and deep emotions that many parents of a PS baby experience and convey to their growing child in story and emotionally can affect the in many ways exciting months leading up to the birth of a new person.  In times past, the traumatised parents would keep their story to themselves, which will often affect their child even more.  Sensitive and wise openness is far preferable to the old-time “stiff upper lip”.

Several things will help –

While most couples awaiting parenthood have never heard of PS, those who “own” their PS story will be far, far, far better prepared.  All infant surgery runs a high risk of a chain of unhappy events, including:

  • the horror of an eagerly awaited newborn infant vomiting itself to death;
  • insensitive, even haughty doctors who dismiss the fears and homework of new parents and draw out diagnosing their infant’s problem;
  • the hazards of anesthesia and surgery, increased in the very young;
  • post-operative complications and frustrations;
  • worries about long-term effects, usually brushed off by doctors but well-founded despite this.

Having recognised and to some extent worked through most of the fears and uncertainties is a great bonus.

Parents with a PS history also need to face the possibility of misgivings and guilt feelings that won’t be justified and will be unproductive, but may be very real and therefore also need to be processed.

As well as the above reasons, PS survivor parents preparing for the birth of a baby may be stressed by the possibility of bringing another “imperfect and damaged person” into the world, and by memories of the utter powerlessness inevitably associated with submitting one’s long-awaited newborn to a medical team and their procedures.

But PS parents will also know better than other parents that despite the above, PS is recognised throughout the medical world as the least un-desirable of all the conditions of infancy that usually require surgery.  The surgery by today’s standards in minor and routine, and almost always quickly effective. Any immediate after-effects will usually clear up within weeks or months, and any long-term after-effects (although usually not acknowledged) are manageable and never life-threatening.

The bottom line: I survived, and my baby will too!

Here follow four people’s observations on this subject area –

I am not so much nervous about labor as I am about being the best mother I can be and being the mother she needs.  I have a lot going through my mind right now.  My main concern is how horrible I will feel if she inherits pyloric stenosis from me.  Because of it I had to have surgery at 3 weeks old, it caused me to be so weak from not enough nutrients that I no longer had the energy to cry.  I am terrified of having to go through what my mom went through.  I keep trying to tell myself that she will be fine and everything will work out, but I am still scared... (– Jessica)

I used to work on a children’s gastrointestinal ward in London and would often see this. It’s a small op as far as an adult is concerned, but for any mum and little quite major. Make sure any questions you have going round in your head now, you write down. Make sure you ask all you want to ask, don’t be afraid as no question is silly, and they would rather explain to you what’s happening than have you confused and worried. (– Rachel)

I almost died before I was even born.  After my mother’s water broke and she was in labor for several hours, I had a bowel movement inside the womb – gross! – and the doctor said that was sign that I was in distress and not getting any oxygen so he performed an emergency C-section.

Then after I was fed for the first time I vomited it right back up.  And I kept vomiting after every feeding. I was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis… So I had to have surgery when I was just a few days old.

So my parents almost lost me twice before I was even a week old, and it’s easy for me to see why they – my mother especially – became overprotective parents.  And they passed that overprotectiveness on to me.  Even though I don’t have or want kids of my own, whenever I’m around kids I’m hyperaware of what’s going on around them.

I grew up knowing about all of the horrible things that can happen to children – rape, kidnapping, murder, etc. And it wasn’t just “stranger danger either. ( – Holly)

I had the surgery as an infant and asked in my first pregnancy if my baby could have the same problem.  I was basically laughed at so I never thought of it again.  I was definitely agitated over that because I would have always watched out for it.  It was hard just thinking about my baby having an IV/surgery and I really broke down when we got to the children’s part of the hospital and I saw the crib/bed.  After that though I was fine.  My DH and I held him for 2 days straight – we took shifts at night.  The hospital was so thorough and made us feel like Jacob was in great hands. (– anon)

Recommended: my previous post on this subject –  https://whatwewishwedknown.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/an-abdominal-scar-and-pregnancy/

 

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Pyloric stenosis can be for adults too

Infant pyloric stenosis (“PS”) is not well-known in the general community.  Many of those who have been affected by it had never heard of it before.  But today far, far fewer people know anything about the adult form of PS.  As I will explain below, this is (in large part) a measure of the tremendous progress that medical science has been made in this area.

The stories of adult PSers vary even more than those about the infant form of the condition.  Some may find that hard to believe but it’s true!

When did problems start?
What happened?
What did the doctor say and do?
Did it work?
What happened then?
What choices did you face?
How are you doing now?

Think about it:  for adults there are many more variables than a baby might have: diet, wellness, lifestyle, age and stage of life…

However, the basic cause of all PS seems to be the same: high gastric acidity.  And one of the symptoms is usually the same: vomiting that is often severe and possibly (especially in infants) life-threatening.  But unlike babies with PS, adults usually find that with the loss of weight and wellness come pain, bloating, food intolerances, and reflux.  These are usually not a problem for the hungry but (at first) happy infant PS spitter.

In the infant disease, the high gastric acid level over-stimulates the pylorus (the circular muscle valve at the stomach’s exit), causing it to thicken, toughen and choke the muscle’s ability to relax and pass food.

Adult PS is also caused by high acidity, and often also by a virus, Helicobacter pylori, which has the nasty habit of stimulating acid secretion.  The acid erodes the stomach lining and creates conditions which enable the virus to trigger the eruption of gastric ulcers, which then scar as they heal, so thickening the walls of the stomach and pylorus, ultimately narrowing and blocking the stomach outlet.  If left untreated these ulcers can also give rise to stomach cancer.

These differences do not affect the name of the condition: “pyloric stenosis” means a “narrowing” of the pylorus (which means “gate”).  The term “hypertrophic” means “enlargement” and is only used of the infant form.  The effect of PS, whether in its infant or adult form, is also the same: the narrowing of the stomach’s exit ring muscle, causing vomiting and a reduction of food throughput, and thus starvation.

The difference in the development of the two forms of PS explains why the relatively simple “fixes” for infant PS (medication or surgery to relax the pyloric ring) do not relieve the adult form.  The PS baby’s problem is the thickening of the pyloric passage’s muscular outer layers, whereas the adult’s scarring, narrowing and blockage occur inside the pylorus or at the antrum, the tapered (narrowing) part of the stomach closest to the pylorus.

Adult PSers suffer from a range of symptoms including vomiting, reflux, pain, lack of appetite, and inability to maintain body weight.  The adult patients’ general practice doctors and GI specialists will try various treatments, starting with drugs to kill the virus infection and reduce acidity, and then relaxant medication and repeated stretching (“dilation”) to widen the pylorus.  Dilation is often repeated several times but is hardly ever successful as a long-term remedy. Sooner or later the patient usually decides to continue to one or more of a short list of surgical remedies, all of which are more severe and often less effective than the rather simple pyloromyotomy which is the usual surgery of choice for infants.

Pyloromyotomy

The simplest surgical remedy is pyloroplasty, a technique that was modified to become the pyloromyotomy which has usually remedied infant PS since Ramstedt’s accidental discovery in 1912.  Ramstedt discovered that it was not necessary to stitch the cut pylorus after he’d split it to relieve the enlarged muscle. He left the gaping pylorus wound to heal by itself in time.

[Select an image to enlarge it if you wish.]

Pyloroplasty

Pyloroplasty

But very sometimes the infant pylorus will not stay open for various reasons, and then a surgeon may return to the pyloroplasty: here the pylorus is split down to the mucosa or inner lining lengthwise (as in a pyloromyotomy); in a pyloroplasty the split muscle is then stitched closed across the pylorus, thus forcing it to stay open.  But because the adult pylorus is often scarred (thickened and hardened) by ulceration, it is often not in a fit condition to be modified.

Gastroenterostomy

The second option is commonly adopted: gastroenterostomy is a bypass of the pylorus by joining the duodenum to the stomach.  This removes the pyloric “gate” between the two which understandably has an effect on digestion.  Dietary changes and smaller, more frequent meals are necessary and often the “dumping syndrome” becomes part of daily living, as the body struggles to maintain a regular and appropriate source of energy.  Gastroparesis is a fairly common problem after gastric surgery: damage and interference cause the nerves and muscles of the region to stop working as they should.

So adult PS is more complex in its causes, symptoms, and available treatments.  And all these several treatment options are far from assured of success, as our gastric passage is easily unsettled and has a mind of its own: it is part of a complex network of different and linked organs and chemical input and processes.  Moreover, like any worker our abdominal organs can protest against being handled with less than good skill by working more slowly or sometimes a complete stop-work.  Medication and especially surgery can be quite successful or can result in unwanted and significant continuing physical side-effects.  Some “survivors” are pleased with the results of their choice, and others find they have to “adjust”, sometimes struggling to do so.

“Major adjustment” is thankfully something that is needed by only a very small minority of infant PS survivors.

Scared_DoctorDespite the dismissive words and comforting promises of pediatric surgeons, infant PSers also run a risk of a short list of abdominal and other complaints, some of them after their early surgery and then possibly also in later life.  Remember that the pyloromyotomy does not deal with the baby’s high gastric acidity.  One of the long-term risks is reflux and developing gastric ulcers – and as a result the adult form of PS.  Deja-vu!

But there’s also good news.  Today, thanks to effective and modern surgery, deaths from infant PS are almost nil.  And adults will find that with antibiotic treatment, H. pylori infection is usually quite easily dealt with, and so gastric ulcers and related surgery peaked in the 1970s and are now far less common.

Some personal observations are indicative despite being anecdotal rather than based on a careful study.  Adult gastric ulcers and PS used to be quite common but the only person I have ever known with it in 70+ years was one of my uncles – possibly a family linkage there?

Contrast this with the 8 or so infant PS patients and survivors I have known of or met.

The reader may discover similar figures!

Another measure is Facebook: following its PS Groups for 10 or so years I have logged 1,020 infant PS survivors but “just” 56 adults struggling with the condition of adulthood (several of tham after having survived infant PS).

The medical journal The Gut published an article in 2011 titled, The scars of time: the disappearance of surgery for pyloric stenosis – referring to the virtual disappearance of the adult form of PS, usually caused by peptic ulcer disease.

If medical science had made similar progress in reducing the incidence of infant PS, many parents and survivors would really party!

For readers who have stories or questions about adult (or infant) PS and its treatment and who use Facebook, I can recommend its “closed” Pyloric Stenosis Support Group which includes more than 50 members who have experienced and have posted (in great variety) about their adult form of PS.  (Any Facebook subscriber can find a “closed” Facebook Group, but it cannot be opened and read only by those who have joined that Group.)

Reflecting on my 70th

Birthdays and anniversaries are times for celebration, and reaching “three-score years and ten” years is certainly worth a big three cheers! But they are important for reflection as well.

150926-25 sml

Renmark Reunion September 2015

Gratitude to God and to the most important people in my life over these 70 years are features I’d like to be emblematic of me.  I am still surrounded with so many loving and kind people, I have enjoyed wonderful peace and excellent health, and my contribution in several circles is still wanted and apparently appreciated.

Ten days ago Helen and I gathered to celebrate my 70th birthday with our 4 children, their spouses and our 11 beautiful grandchildren.  A wonderful 5 days . . .

October 6th is ten days after my birth-day and  marks the 70th anniversary of the life-saving surgery I had in the Netherlands.  I would not be writing this but for that day in my life!

Together with the country of my birth and background, my weary and expecting parents were struggling to emerge from the ordeal of World War 2.  And then I arrived, their long-awaited first child, but soon clearly defective: scary, uncontrollable and life-endangering vomiting (infant pyloric stenosis – “PS”).  And these were times when medical science was pretty rough and ready by today’s standards and when people didn’t dwell on what they’d rather forget.

Pic 12

Mother with me – October 1945

So October 6th marks what I now realise was the gift of a new and wonderful second start in life, but also the beginning of a life-shaping journey of exploration and discovery – outside of me and within.

Outside, my parents were unwilling or unable to answer my reasonable questions about the 10 cm scar on my belly, and this drove me to look for information elsewhere.  But until the advent of the web, this search yielded only cold textbook medical data about PS and the then 33 year old surgical fix for the condition.  And explanations of my deeper issues were nowhere to be found: there were no pointers to where these might be unearthed and no ways of identifying people who could help me to realise (as I do now) that my pain was by no means wacky.

Book coverWithin, I was tormented with private pain from the dawn of my self-consciousness until recent years.  Even now I am still working to piece my private pain-puzzle together, although the web has given me access to much information, clarification and to networking with fellow-survivors, all of which has enabled me to receive and share much healing.  Since 2012 I have blogged about my journey, and in 2014 a pediatric surgeon friend and I published a small book, in which he explained what many still regard as the elusive cause of PS and I outlined my personal experience of this condition. It so happens (in Australia at least) that October 6 falls in “Mental Health Week” – and my own story has certainly helped me to feel a sense of identity with people challenged by mental health issues.

Time changes things!  The past 70 years have taught us the value of openness in the home, the importance of both listening and speaking for healing, of collaboration in achieving goals, and (by no means least) we have learnt much about trauma.

70 years have also brought huge changes to surgical technique and to holistic care in the hospital and home.  Time seems to have done less to change the unhelpful attitudes of some in the medical profession – but that’s due to human nature being far from perfect.

What do these changes (and their lack in some respects) mean?

120327-07-WgHcThe kind of trauma symptoms I struggled with is rare among more recent PS survivors.  Their surgical scars are sometimes almost indiscernible, usually tidy and very rarely as gnarly.  Affected children’s and their parents’ questions are typically answered much more fully and sympathetically, and the children are helped to understand, “own” and even feel pride about their story.

As I see it, I have discerned this is the growth in myself.  I am indeed a survivor from a bygone era of medical practice and parenting, and my scar is an exhibit of mid-20th century surgery.  I know it’s not socially correct for a cultured older gentleman like me to proudly show off his scar as an 8 year old lad might… but I’m catching up on lost joys and enjoying it!

Pyloric stenosis in its adult forms (1)

Back in the 1950s I once overheard my parents talking about my oldest (and long deceased) uncle Fred having a stomach ulcer and an operation to deal with this.  I well remember being transfixed and “all ears”, but having been stonewalled so often, I dared not ask my parents the question on my mind.  At this time I would have been about 10 years old, and I had worked out that my prominent and hated belly scar was from an operation I’d had as a baby as I’d developed a blocked stomach (pyloric stenosis, “PS”).  I was keen to know whether my uncle Fred would be sporting a scar just like his young namesake.

When I got to see my uncle in swim-mode some 20 years later I was disappointed: his scar was small and almost invisible, far less disfiguring than mine.  Compared with infant surgery in the 1940s, abdominal surgery on adults and 20 years later was quite tidy.

Gastric ulcer01What I’ve discovered only recently is that infant PS and adult gastric ulcers and PS are often related.  All three conditions and several others have been linked with a high output of gastric acid and this is often a family trait.  So my connection with my namesake uncle (and hero) likely went further than our family realised!

The previous post sets out some of the important similarities and differences between the infant and adult forms of PS.  This post will outline two medical articles on adult PS.

The first report was published in 2010 and deals with the case of a 71 year old male who was diagnosed with PS.  The interested reader is encouraged to use the link to read the full article which has been kindly made available to the public.

In brief, it notes that adult PS is found in two forms.  It is often caused by other conditions: a long history of a mild form of the early version, an earlier stomach problem such as a gastric ulcer, or cancer.  Sometimes, as in this case, no underlying disease was found.  This 71 year old was unaware of any such factors, yet tests and surgery proved this man did indeed have a PS.  His symptoms of “abdominal distension, nausea, and vomiting” had been noticed for (just) 3 months.

It is noted that both forms of PS occur far more often in males than in females, and that they often recur in certain families.

The aim of this report is to be applauded: to raise the awareness of both forms of PS within the medical community, and especially the various ways it can appear in adults.

For those like myself and (I expect) most of our readers, the article’s value is also in its acknowledgement that the infant and adult forms of PS are related, and that the infant form does not necessarily end with a simple surgery.  Far from it, as many of us have well come to know!

The second report can thankfully also be read in full by those interested in more detail.  It outlines the very large decline in the number of adult PS sufferers needing surgery.  I have already posted about this.

downward_graph_smallThis study was undertaken by a York (UK) body gathering data on peptic ulcer disease, and based on the statistics from the 3 kinds of stomach surgery done on 4,178 adults and how often adult PS was found during these procedures.  The study ran from 1929 to 1997 and included people born between 1889 and 1959.  It found that the age at surgery fell during these years, that PS was found in 17% of the earliest patients, and just 3% in the last group, and that gastric surgery rates fell markedly (although not uniformly) during the almost 70 years under the lens.

These results show very clearly the effectiveness of modern medical treatment for stomach conditions and introduced in 1977; this includes acid-suppressing medication which reduces the formation of gastric ulcers and resultant scarring of the stomach wall and pylorus.  However, the reduction of PS numbers was even greater than the falling numbers of stomach surgery, suggesting that a number of factors are at work, including diet, medication, and the management of upper bowel disease.

Once again, the great majority of readers will be less interested in the medical messages of the report than in what it might mean for interested lay people.  What do these figures mean for you and me whose history includes PS?

  • yay1People who have had infant PS are less likely to have serious long-term effects than they might have expected some 40 years ago or earlier, thanks to better diet options and medication.
    The fact that today we can read much more about the long-term problems experienced after infant PS is a reflection of our access to the media, not of rising numbers.
  • People who have had infant PS are ever less likely to need further surgery for ongoing problems including a renewed stomach blockage. We need to be aware that for some of us these problems are significant, testing, and often interminable.
    The report states what many have found (as I have read), that surgical responses to such problems are not only severe but also likely to be ineffective in the longer term.
  • Peptic ulcer disease continues today but it now very rarely results in PS.

So – generally good news for the PS-aware community!  My next post will review several other medical articles on adult PS.

Pyloric stenosis: its infant and adult forms

This blogsite has mentioned several times that pyloric stenosis (“PS”) afflicts adults as well as infants.

Pain01Recently I devoted a post to the adult form, passing on the stories of several people who had related these on one of the Facebook PS Groups’ pages.  By using the “Categories” box at the top right of this site, interested readers can locate several posts that deal with adult PS.

The stories of adult PSers vary even more than those about the infant form of the condition.  However, the basic cause is the same: high gastric acidity.

In the infant disease, the high gastric acid level over-stimulates the pylorus (the circular muscle valve at the stomach’s exit, causing it to thicken, toughen and choke the muscle’s ability to relax and pass food. Peptic ulcer3

Adult PS is also caused by high acidity and often a virus, Helicobacter pylori. The acid erodes the stomach lining and creates conditions which enable the virus to trigger the eruption of gastric ulcers, which then scar the stomach and pylorus, ultimately narrowing and blocking the stomach outlet.  These ulcers can also give rise to cancer.

These differences do not affect the name of the condition: “pyloric stenosis” means “narrowing” of the pylorus (which means “gate”).  The term “hypertrophic” means “enlargement” and is only used of the infant form.  The effect of PS is also the same: the blockage of the narrow exit valve, starvation and vomiting.

The difference in the development of the two forms of PS explains why the relatively simple “fixes” for infant PS (medication or surgery to relax the pyloric ring) do not relieve the adult form of the condition.  The PS baby’s problem is the thickening of the pyloric passage’s muscular outer, whereas the adult’s blockage occurs inside the pylorus or at the antrum, the tapered part of the stomach closest to the pylorus.

Scared_DoctorThe main post mentioned above reflects the range of symptoms that adult PSers may suffer and the various treatments which are offered by GI specialists: unhappily adult PS is more complex in its causes, symptoms and available treatment.  All treatment options are far from assured of success and they tend to have unwanted and significant physical side-effects, far more often so than the great majority of infant PS survivors report.

Infant PSers have a much higher risk of a list of abdominal complaints after their early surgery and in later life.  One of the risks is of developing gastric ulcers – and the other form of PS.  Deja-vu!

But today, thanks to effective antibiotic treatment, H. pylori infection is usually quite easily dealt with, and so gastric ulcers are now much less common than they were in my younger years.

The next post will continue the stories of adults with PS.

Pyloric stenosis – untangling the emotional baggage

Another happy birthday and another poignant anniversary of my first and very early brush with death have just passed, and this cast me into a reflective mood.  This was focussed by some delightful time I recently spent with family members.

1940s surgery looked and was different from today's

1940s surgery looked and was different from today’s

As my previous post has recounted, I had pyloric stenosis (or “PS”, a blocked stomach) soon after my birth and escaped death by starvation by having an operation when I was only 10 days old.  I’m sure the trauma affected my mother, and this in turn affected me, added to by the crude way infant surgery was often done until the 1990s, plus the maternal deprivation that was part of 1940s hospital routines and infection control.

If you have had PS and are troubled by ongoing issues you suspect or know are related, you may want to reflect along with me!  A little background will help …

Only in the 1950s did some doctors begin to specialise in pediatric (infant and child) surgery, and only much later still did this and advances in medical technology see the development of anesthetics, anesthetic management and surgical techniques that are safe for infants in their tenderest first two years.  I have posted that Dr J Everett Koop in the USA was an early pioneer in this.

Only in the late 1980s did a few brave people in the U.S. medical community dare to address the commonly believed mantra that “babies don’t feel or remember pain”.  Among them, Drs K J S Anand and P R Hickey explored the facts and then available information and challenged the established beliefs and practices.  The late Dr David Chamberlain wrote articles and books about the infant mind and memory.  And the late Dr Louis Tinnin amongst others developed therapies to help survivors of crude early surgery to recognise, manage and overcome the post-traumatic stress that could result.

In recent years I have been able to connect online with many who have been affected by old-style infant surgery like I was, and I honour and thank those researchers and doctors who have done so much to give us the present safe and usually fairly damage-free ways of treating infants who need early surgery.

Thanks to the work of the above people (and others like them) I can now understand the mysterious, unsettling, embarrassing and scary inner struggles with which I’ve had to live for most of my nearly 70 years.  Only in the last ten years has the light and help given by these heroes and spread via the internet been moving me towards healing and inner emotional peace.

Here are some of the “issues” with which I struggled –

  • People02All my life I have had an overpowering and insatiable obsession with the 10 x 3 cm scar-web on my belly and the operation it represents. I recently posted about this obsession which has troubled me in a list of ways, some private and worrying, some quite public and embarrassing.
  • For the first 20 years I was afraid of hospitals and all my life I have had passive-aggressive problems with medical people and to some extent with anyone in authority.
  • Since the dawning of my self-consciousness I have had a deep “need to know”, to understand in some detail what this strange thing on my belly was and what exactly happened to put it there. When my parents fobbed me off I went to books, libraries and bookshops, and much later there was the internet.
  • I was often upset by visitors’ curiosity about my scar, my parents’ stonewalling whenever I asked them about it and my PS story – while I overheard them talking with visitors about this page in my life!
  • Certain words and seeing certain things were triggers that made my heart jump, made me blush, and funnelled my thinking to that first medical problem and procedure I had. I have posted about some of my triggers recently.
  • Digestion problems seemed to affect me more often than others in my family.
  • It became clear to me that my mind wasn’t as good as my 4 siblings’ was, that I was less well coordinated and confident than they are, and that I was regarded by my parents and others as rather sensitive and easily put on the defensive.

Most of these frustrations were obviously linked with my first illness and surgery, and I came to suspect the last two might well be too, as I found medical reports that linked PS and its surgery (pyloromyotomy) with them.  Very early starvation damages the baby’s developing brain, including intelligence and motor coordination, and PS survivors and their parents frequently report any of quite a list of abdominal complaints, including vomiting, irritable bowels and reflux, confusion over hunger or feeling full, and discomfort to severe pain often suspected as being caused by adhesions that had developed within from the scar.

Many of my posts on this blogsite discuss these matters.  Interested readers can find them by using the “Categories” search box at the upper right of this page.

How did “family time” get me thinking?

  • During a recent reunion I enjoyed with my four siblings, we discussed our gastro-intestinal behaviour – among many other things of course, but yes, we did! We found we had remarkably similar problems with diet, GI problems and necessary food cautions.
    This does not take away my gastric challenges but puts them in a wider context: it is well-known that PS is caused by high gastric acidity and quite often both these have a hereditary element, affecting more than one baby in a family.
    So my mild gastric problems caused my PS and it seems are not its result, nor that of the surgery.
  • I continue to feel confirmed in my observation that compared with what I see of my family’s gene pool, I have reason to believe that my very early days of starvation seem to have somewhat affected my brain development. However, I also recognise that PS survivors are represented on the full range of the emotional, mental and physical spectra!
  • Especially two of my grandchildren have come to remind me very much of some of my own emotional architecture. While happy to do things in public they hate with a passion situations where they feel “exposed”: having their named called out in a school assembly, being asked to pose for a photo.  They are emotionally sensitive, and clearly “people people” but can also be so focussed (or obsessed?) that we wonder if they are at the low end of the autism spectrum.
    Seeing these kids grow up shows me that some of my “issues” seem to have been caused by a combination of some of my personality traits and unhappy (even traumatic) remembered experiences that arose from my PS scar.
  • This leaves the first three items on my list as totally or largely unexplained except by the fact that some others with PS in their past have reported similar signs of trauma: obsessions, sensitivities, passive-aggressiveness especially towards authority, and “triggers”.
    The specialists in medical science, psychiatry and counselling I highlighted above, together with others who have worked on this, are able to tell us that indicators such as the ones I have mentioned are (or can be) symptoms of PTSD. PTSD has been long recognised in a relatively small group of people (usually war veterans) but was usually brushed off as “too bad, be glad, you’re a survivor”.  Only in recent years has PTSD been taken seriously, explored and much better understood, and as a result it is now better managed and treated.

QUANTUM2The coming of the internet has made it possible for people to network and share territory they have in common.  Much that was previously ignored is now shared, explored and explained.  I have learnt so much about my lifelong discomfort with aspects of myself!  I know now that my “secret inner self” is well within the bounds of what is normal after early surgery in a now hopefully bygone age.  I no longer have to worry about being weird or unique.  Others share and understand my pain and yet have lived a pretty normal life, as I have in fact!  I have been carrying the symptoms of mild ptsd, and counselling and therapy could reduce them but will never remove them.

So I can join those of a more outgoing and confident spirit and carry and show my scar with some pride: I am alive today because I’m part of the history of surgery, I’m grateful to God that I was born at a time when I could benefit from this, and I enjoy being part of the community of PS and infant surgery survivors.

And though I have missed out on certain gifts (how I sometimes long for a quick mind and body), I’m also grateful for the gift I have to explain things clearly, simply and patiently, and that in my senior years all this has come together in my blogging and online participation in the interactions of PS survivors.

Understanding infant pyloric stenosis (Conclusions)

In the previous few posts I have overviewed and “translated” in some detail the major and professional medical section of a small book recently published by Dr Ian M Rogers and myself, with the descriptive title, The consequence and cause of pyloric stenosis of infancy: Two personal stories.

The reason for this series of posts?

At least some of the survivors of infant pyloric stenosis (“PS”) and their parents will be interested to know and understand this condition better, as we keep being told that “we still don’t know what causes it”.

Let’s face it, “knowledge is power”, and how many parents don’t wish they knew more about PS when they are suddenly and horribly faced with it?  What causes this?  What can and should I do?  How do I look after my sick baby when I feel the doctor fobs me off? Can my beautiful baby avoid surgery for this? What are the possible short- and long-term side effects?

Although I have never had a child with PS, I had it as a baby and wish I had known what I know now much, much earlier.  In the past this was virtually impossible, but the power of the web has changed this completely.

True, there are still some areas that are not fully understood, but it’s also true that drawing on a lifetime’s work with PS, the retired professor Ian Rogers is able to give us a clear and (it seems to me) compelling explanation of what does in fact cause PS.  The fact that he has written his part of the book using a lot of medical language must not keep his knowledgeable and compelling explanations and rich insights from those of us most affected by PS!

In this the last post of this series, I look at the last three of 6 questions which are often regarded as summing up the mysteries of PS, but which can in fact be answered in the light of Ian Rogers’ discussion of the discoveries that together explain PS.

4   Why is PS more frequent in the first born?

first-time-mom2First-born babies are cared for by cared for by first-time mothers.  PS babies are hungry and vigorous, ravenously hungry (at first), and unusually, the condition does not leave them feeling nauseous but immediately voraciously hungry for more.  Understandably but tragically, this gives the stomach and the acid-caused work-enlarged pyloric muscle no rest; an experienced mother will be more inclined to give feeding a break.

Mention is made of a 1962 article by Dr N M Jacoby, who compared two groups of 100 babies treated medically and surgically for PS, with one baby (only) of each group dying.  Of the medically treated children, Jacoby stresses the importance of (1) relative under-feeding, (2) the drug involved (atropine) being carefully used in relation to body weight, and (3) regular stomach washouts.  Two of these cautions can be linked to the hyper-acidity theory.

It is often mentioned that PS occurs far less frequently in under-developed countries: this also fits the theory, although more factors may be involved.

5   Why does pyloromyotomy, and not gastro-enterostomy, cause the tumour to disappear?

There are reports about 52 year old patients whose pylorus was found to be still enlarged after a gastro-enterostomy surgery in infancy to overcome PS; after pyloromyotomy the pylorus returns to its normal condition after several weeks.

Unlike gastro-enterostomy, pyloromyotomy disables the muscle ring and widens the opening temporarily, which breaks the cycle of its becoming enlarged by overwork.  Gastro-enterostomy was used before pyloromyotomy was discovered and is still used occasionally: it by-passes the pylorus which removes the immediate feeding problem but the pylorus continues to be over-stimulated by an over-acidic stomach.

6   Why does PS present at around 3-4 weeks of age?

Dr Rogers mentions two possible reasons.

It could take some weeks for higher than usual acidity to enlarge the pylorus sufficiently to make a clear diagnosis of PS possible.  But if this were so, we could expect other problems caused by hyper-acidity to arise at this time – and they don’t.

More likely is that the switching mechanism between alkalinity and acidity is more immature than usual during the first weeks.

In evolutionary terms, the benefits of the normal high acidity in a baby during the first weeks (incl. guarding against microbial attack as mentioned earlier) outweigh the negative of a few babies with hyper-acidity having problems!

Other lines of enquiry

1   Genetics

genetics1Genetic studies have shown that more than one gene is involved in PS, and that the condition is multifactorial: it can be caused by any one or more of several factors.  This is confirmed by studies of identical twins who are more likely to share PS than non-identical twins or siblings but far from always.

It has been found that PS infants tend to have higher birth weight, and (anecdotally) they may also become more athletic!

2   Chemistry of the pylorus

Prof. Rogers gives three reasons why the reports of chemical abnormalities of the pyloric muscle (the presence of growth factors and the absence of other chemicals) are theoretically attractive but do not stand up to scrutiny.

3   Infection

The analysis of swabs taken from the nose and throat of babies have shown no abnormality in PS babies.

A previous post has mentioned links between hyperacidity in PS babies and in adults infected with a stomach bug, Helicobacter pylorus, which can trigger gastro-duodenal ulcers.  But several studies of PS infants have not discovered any H. pylorus infection.

Dr Rogers remarks how strange it is that none of these studies links the hyperacidity triggered by a H pylorus infection with the hyperacidity that is part of PS.  Strange indeed!

Conclusion

Dr Rogers sums up:

Constitutional hyperacidity coupled with developmental hyperacidity begets pyloric contractions which begets work hypertrophy which begets IHPS.  IHPS begets further hyperacidity, and so on.
Maternal anxiety in the novice mother means that the hungry but vomiting baby is frequently fed with more pyloric contractions and more work hypertrophy – and a bigger tumour.

Wryly, he adds that it seems there is nothing new under the sun, and that “we are almost back where we started”.  In 1921 Dr J Thompson already proposed that the pylorus spasming and overdeveloping through over-work were the cause of PS, and still earlier, in 1903 Dr W Freund had suggested that excess hydrochloric acidity was a key factor.

The future

Dr Rogers urges that his theory is “perfectly testable”.

  • It is well known that PS babies’ serious loss of acid through their vomiting must be remedied before surgery, as their alkalosis (excess alkaline in the body) causes dangerous hazards during and after the operation.
  • ranitidine01Adults similarly affected by vomiting and acid loss are quickly and effectively treated with drugs to reduce the excessive release of acid.
  • Successful medical treatment of babies with PS is regularly reported: intravenous atropine is used to rapidly reduce the size of the pyloric tumour while the malnutrition and chemical imbalance are corrected.
  • Surgical treatment is now more prompt with a drug (cimetidine) that rapidly corrects alkalosis.  The author mentions an as yet unpublished report that this drug when given to mild cases made surgery unnecessary in 16 of 17 cases.
  • Another powerful acid blocking drug, Ranitidine, has also proved to be very effective in avoiding surgery when PS is recognized early; it should also be useful when surgery is not safe or accessible.  Dr Rogers then briefly outlines several other avenues of treating PS safely and medically.

He concludes his comments on considering non-surgical treatment by adding:

Such a pre-operative strategy with babies with IHPS is long overdue. It should not come as a surprise if we find that such temporary treatment promotes a lasting cure.