Knock out blow

A simple test can confirm a diagnosis of peptic ulcers without adding significantly to a patient’s stress level. The individual merely breathes into a tube, then drinks a lemon-flavoured liquid and breathes into another tube 30 minutes later. Results are ready within 48 hours and, if positive, antibiotic therapy can be started.

Most peptic ulcers, it turns out, aren’t the result of stress or a weakness for fiery foods. They’re caused by an infection of a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and, consequently, can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Elimination of the bacterium is also important because of its association with gastric cancer. (About 30 per cent of ulcers result from the erosion of stomach walls by aspirin-type medications and require a different treatment strategy.)

Although the breath test may not be covered by all provincial health plans, its $75 to $100 price tag is only about 10 per cent of the cost of less effective medications traditionally prescribed for ulcer treatment. And that’s a small price to pay for avoiding years of misery.