Q. I have just been prescribed a course of antibiotics for the stomach infection Helicobacter pylori. This is my fifth course in 16 years and they make me feel poorly each time. Should I keep taking them and is there any alternative that would help?
A. About 40 per cent of people in the UK have Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that lives in the sticky lining of the stomach, according to Core, the digestive disorders foundation. A helpful leaflet, Information About Helicobacter Pylori, is available on their website (corecharity.org.uk).
In most of those affected, Helicobacter pylori causes no problems, but about 15 per cent will develop a gastric or duodenal ulcer. These tend to cause indigestion or, occasionally, lead to a more serious condition as they can bleed or even burst. There is also a very slightly increased risk of stomach cancer.
Doctors agree that all patients with Helicobacter pylori should have antibiotic treatment if they have, or ever have had, an ulcer. However, if you do not have an ulcer (which you do not clarify), many doctors believe it is not worth the potential disadvantages of taking an antibiotic (see below).
Research published in the British Medical Journal in 2015 states that ‘the efficacy of standard treatment for Helicobacter pylori has decreased’, which may be the reason you still suffer from it. One option is to take a probiotic. The same study showed that ten to 14 days of probiotic supplemented treatment was one of the most effective regimes.
Other published research shows that Protexin Bio-Kult Multi-Strain Probiotic, taken with standard treatment for Helicobacter pylori, helps to increase eradication rates of the bacterium to more than 90 per cent in children aged three to 14.
Probiotics may also help with the side effectsof antibiotics. This is particularly the case with broad spectrum ones such as those used to treat Helicobacter pylori, which cause diarrhoea, vomiting and tummy upsets in about one in four people. This is because antibiotics also damage the stomach’s good bacteria, according to Dr. Ashton Harper, specialist medical advisor to Protexin. This may prevent patients from finishing the course and thus getting rid of the harmful bacteria. It may also lead to the rise of antibiotic resistance.
TOP UP YOUR ANTIBIOTIC AWARENESS
Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats facing us today. Antibiotics are vital medicines for treating bacterial infections, as well as a key part of routine treatments from basic operations andchildbirth to chemotherapy and organ transplants.
But the more we use them, the more likely bacteria will become resistant to them. This is happening at an alarming rate as antibiotics are over-prescribed and also because – when they are necessary – patients do not take them exactly as directed.
We can all help by not badgering our doctors for antibiotics – they will not work against colds and flu, for instance, which are caused by viruses, as are most coughs and sore throats. If we do need them, we should take the whole course as prescribed.
European Antibiotic Awareness Day is on 18th November. For more information, visit nhs.uk/arc.
BOOK OF THE WEEK: Calmer Easier Happier Screen Time by Noël Janis-Norton (YellowKite, £14.99)
Several parents recommend this guide to stopping children from becoming too absorbed in the digital world. One mother said the most helpful part of the book was having guidelines for conducting the inevitable battles over the hours her children spend glued to different devices, which helped her to start limiting their screen time and managing it more positively.
2 OF THE BEST LIP BALMS TO HELP PREVENT COLD SORES
• Lysine Lip Therape with Monolaurin/£8 at victoriahealth.com) A natural, nourishing treatment for dry lips with two antiviral agents (l-lysine, an amino acid, and monolaurin, from coconut) to help prevent and treat cold sores, which are caused by the Herpes simplex virus.
• Prevasore Everyday Lip Therapy/£6.95 at prevasore.co.uk) A medicated product based on white, soft paraffin to keep lips hydrated and provide a barrier against the wintry environment that can reactivate a dormant cold sore virus. It also encourages faster healing if you do get one.