H. pylori is one of the most common stomach disorders. It is a bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers and may even lead to stomach cancer. Proton pump inhibitors in combination with antibiotics can often eradicate the bacteria, but should pregnant women be concerned about H. pylori's effect on their unborn children?
gerbil image by jÃ©rÃ´me caffin from Fotolia.com
Research suggests that H. pylori cannot be passed from a pregnant mother to her foetus. In an article for World Journal of Gastroenterology, Jin-Uk Lee and Okjin Kim described an experiment done with Mongolian gerbils in which pregnant gerbils were infected with H. pylori. None of the fetal gerbils had H. pylori, nor did any of the baby gerbils just after birth. The baby gerbils did, however, develop the disease a few days after birth, leading Lee and Kim to believe the bacteria can be transmitted through breast milk or from saliva or other environmental factors of the gerbils' living together.
Because gerbils are mammals, methods of disease transmission with humans are similar. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume expectant human mothers are not likely to pass H. pylori to their foetuses. They can, however, give it to their babies shortly after birth. Though this is still cause for concern, at least the bacteria itself apparently has no negative impact on fetal development.
H. pylori has, however, been linked to hyperemesis gravida in pregnant women. Hyperemesis gravida is nausea and vomiting so severe it threatens the health of the mother and the nutritional status of the foetus. It is far more severe than the typical morning sickness that frequently accompanies the first trimester of pregnancy and can require that the pregnant woman be hospitalised and hydrated with intravenous fluids and nourishment. In extreme cases, it can lead to fetal death or miscarriage.
Given the link between H. pylori and hyperemesis gravida and the likelihood of a mother's transmitting H. pylori to her infant shortly after birth, it may be a good idea for women to get tested for H. pylori before they begin trying to conceive. This is especially true for women who have a history of H. pylori infection. If the test returns positive results, the woman can take the recommended course of treatment and then be tested again to see if the infection has cleared before attempting to conceive.
If you are already pregnant and have a history of H. pylori infection, do not use the urea breath test to check whether H. pylori is still in your system. The radiation involved in this test can harm the foetus. Stool tests are available that can provide the same results with no potential for harm. If you are diagnosed with H. pylori while pregnant, it is probably advisable to go through with the treatment regimen. Most of the combinations of medication involved in this regimen are Category B, which means they are reasonably safe for pregnant women. Always make sure your prescribing physician knows you are pregnant, however, before he decides on the best combination of medications to eradicate your H. pylori.
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: Natural Maternal Transmission of H pylori in Mongolian Gerbils
- "PDR Nurse's Drug Handbook"; Thompson Delmar Learning; 2005.