Dyspepsia remains a costly, chronic condition, and drug costs in particular continue to increase rapidly . In many cases, the symptoms are of short duration or mild in severity and are self-managed . The optimal management strategy for patients aged 55 years or younger who present with new-onset dyspepsia and no alarming features has been dominated by testing for H. pylori and treating all positive cases empirically with antimicrobial therapy. However, other strategies have been practiced such as empirical medical therapy (e.g. antisecretory agents), subsequent investigation being limited to failures, or immediate evaluation by upper endoscopy in all cases, therapy being targeted on the basis of the results .
The H. pylori testing and treatment approach is likely to be more beneficial than other strategies in infected patients, and the impact of this strategy is likely to be small if the infection is not very prevalent . In addition, cost-effectiveness studies suggest that a choice of noninvasive testing should be based on the prevalence of infection in the community. In low and intermediate prevalence situations, the stool antigen test or urea breath test dominate . The higher costs of these tests are offset by their accuracy. Accordingly, it is clear that determining the prevalence of H. pylori infection in the community is fundamental to deciding the most cost-effective strategy for managing patients with uninvestigated dyspepsia.
In 1998, 88.5% of patients in Kuwait with dyspeptic symptoms who were referred for endoscopy proved H. pylori-positive . However, the prevalence of H. pylori infection has continued to decline dramatically, as has the identification of peptic ulcer disease . Moreover, the prevalence of H. pylori infection differs widely among countries and by age and race . Hence, our present study was designed to evaluate the prevalence of H. pylori infection among new dyspepsia patients and to stratify them by age and race in order to apply the appropriate management strategy.
The overall prevalence of H. pylori among the 362 dyspeptic patients in our study was 49.7%, though it varied with age, race and sex. This prevalence is considered intermediate. On the basis of this study, therefore, the choice of noninvasive test in our community should be either the urea breath test or stool antigen test, both of which have been shown to be accurate for the initial diagnosis of H. pylori infection and for confirming eradication . The urea breath test is widely available in Kuwait in both governmental and private sectors, but the stool antigen test is not yet available. Both tests require discontinuation of PPI for two weeks because the drugs used inhibit urease, leading to false negative results .
In view of the current prevalence of H. pylori infection in Kuwait, the testing and treatment approach is likely to be the most cost-effective strategy for evaluating patients with dyspepsia. This policy would decrease the work-load on endoscopy centers, lower the costs and decrease the rate of complications associated with upper endoscopy. Moreover, the management approach can easily be established at primary care centers and general hospital clinics. This would decrease the number of patients in subspecialty clinics, allowing more time for the specialists to manage more complex gastrointestinal diseases.
Our study did not evaluate the relief of symptoms or healing rates in the dyspepsia patients after H. pylori infection was treated. Consequently, it did not confirm the usefulness of the testing and treatment strategy in clinical practice for relief of symptoms. Furthermore, in patients older than 50 years, direct endoscopy could be an alternative strategy for detecting gastroduodenal pathology, which may require close follow-up in this patient age group.
After stratifying the patients according to race, age and sex, it was evident that there was significantly more H. pylori infection among the expatriates (57.6% vs 42.6%, p = 0.004). Since most of the expatriates belong to either low or intermediate socioeconomic classes, a cost-effective approach to the management of dyspepsia would benefit this category of patients. Our data also indicated that among dyspeptic expatriates, H. pylori was less prevalent overall among female patients (40% vs 66%, p = 0.002). This sex difference in prevalence may be attributed to numerous epidemiological factors including country of origin, socioeconomic class, place of birth and ethnicity.
Among the dyspeptic Kuwaiti patients, on the other hand, H. pylori was significantly more prevalent among young females than males (38% vs 10.5%, p = 0.008), but there was no sex difference overall (females 43.2% Vs males 42.2%) (Table 1). This indicates that female Kuwaiti patients acquire H. pylori infection at a younger age than males, which could be translated clinically to a more aggressive disease associated with long duration of infection.
In a population-based study from Norway , the distribution of H. pylori infection with regard to dyspepsia in men and women was uneven. Moreover, the prevalence of H. pylori infection had decreased independently of dyspepsia, especially in younger age groups. These findings are broadly similar to those of our present study, questioning our understanding of the causal relationship between dyspepsia and H. pylori infection.