Stomach bugs up risk of heartburn woes years later

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A serious bout with a tummy bug may mean heartburn years later, new research shows.

Serious bacterial or viral infections of the digestive system-known medically as infectious gastroenteritis-may lead to some cases of irritable bowel syndrome, possibly by causing low-grade inflammation in the intestine, Dr. Alex Ford of McMaster University Medical Center in Hamilton, Ontario and his colleagues note.

Studies have suggested that such infections could also be linked with functional dyspepsia-basically, symptoms of heartburn, fullness and indigestion with no known cause-but the evidence isn’t as strong.

To investigate, Ford and his team looked at a group of people who had been living in the small rural town of Walkerton, Ontario, during a 2000 outbreak of bacterial gastroenteritis after the municipal water supply became contaminated with cow manure. At least 2,300 people were sickened, and seven died.

Two years after the outbreak, in 2002, the researchers enrolled a representative sample of the town’s population in an ongoing study. In 2008, they followed up with 1,088 of the study participants, about two-thirds of whom reported having gotten sick during the outbreak. About 40 percent of the entire group reported dyspepsia symptoms, such as heartburn and unpleasant sensations of fullness after a meal.

Among those who’d been sickened in the outbreak, half had dyspepsia symptoms, compared to 30 percent of the people who hadn’t gotten sick during the outbreak. The risk was more than twice as high for the outbreak victims, and this remained true even when the researchers used a stricter definition for dyspepsia.

The findings suggest, the researchers conclude, that gut infections “have the ability to trigger symptoms that affect the upper, as well as the lower gastrointestinal tract, with long-lasting consequences.”

SOURCE: Gastroenterology, online February 1, 2010.