What is Achlorhydria?
Achlorhydria is a condition where the hydrochloric (HCl) acid is completely absent in the stomach. Achlorhydria is a more severe form of a hypochlorhydria, where there is a deficiency of the stomach acids. Achlorhydria can impair the digestive process and cause damage to the gastrointestinal system, as in the absence of the stomach acids; the body is unable to break down the protein in a proper manner. As a result, a person having achlorhydria is more vulnerable to infections of the gastrointestinal system.
Why are Stomach Acids Important?
The function of the hydrochloric acid or stomach acids is breaking down of food and activating the digestive enzymes which are responsible for dissolving proteins and other nutrients. Hydrochloric acid helps in destroying bacteria, parasites and viruses that are present in the stomach and this in turn protects a person from any disease or infection. If achlorhydria is left untreated, then the consequences can be fatal for the patient.
What are the Causes & Risk Factors of Achlorhydria?
Age: Even though achlorhydria can occur in people of all ages and races, it is more commonly seen in elderly individuals.
Medications: Overuse or excessive use of antacids or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may prevent the production of stomach acids, which in turn results in achlorhydria.
Hypothyroidism: This is a risk factor which decreases a person’s metabolism resulting in reduced production of gastric acid or achlorhydria.
H. Pylori Infection: Infection from Helicobacter pylori that causes peptic ulcers, which if not treated, can lead to Achlorhydria.
Surgery: Surgeries done for weight loss, such as gastric bypass surgery where the size of the stomach is reduced, also changes the way a human body handles food. Such type of surgery can also cause Achlorhydria.
Autoimmune Disorders: There are some autoimmune disorders which also interfere with the production of stomach acid and can lead to Achlorhydria.
What are the Symptoms of Achlorhydria?
Anemia: People having Achlorhydria have an increased risk for developing iron deficiency anemia, as in the absence of stomach acids; there will be difficulty with iron absorption. Not only iron, but minerals and vitamins minerals, such as folic acid, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin D are also dependent on sufficient quantity of stomach acids for their absorption into the GI tract.
Digestive Symptoms: Other symptoms of achlorhydria consist of: indigestion, abdominal bloating, nausea, acid reflux, digestive issues, hair loss, weak and brittle nails and presence of undigested food in the stools.
Bacterial Overgrowth: There is also occurrence of bacterial overgrowth due to the absence of stomach acids in achlorhydria and this causes complications such as malabsorption, which prevents absorption of nutrients from foods.
Neurological Symptoms: Patient also experiences neurological symptoms due to nutritional deficiencies from Achlorhydria which include:
- Weakness in the arms and legs.
- Memory loss.
- Vision changes.
- Numbness or tingling in fingers and toes.
How is Achlorhydria Diagnosed?
For diagnosing achlorhydria, patient’s physical exam is done; medical history with the patient’s presenting symptoms is taken. Testing of the pH of the stomach, especially if the patient is presenting with the following symptoms: abdominal pain, bloating, acid reflux, diarrhea, problems with digestion, weight loss and symptoms of malnutrition is done.
A specialist will be called in, if achlorhydria is suspected, to determine the best method for measuring the levels of stomach acid. Blood tests are done to check for certain types of anemia, which can be associated with inadequate or absence of stomach acids.
How is Achlorhydria Treated?
Treatment of achlorhydria depends on its cause. If infection is the cause of achlorhydria, then antibiotics are prescribed for achlorhydria treatment. If the use of antacids is causing achlorhydria, then treatment consists of stopping or changing that medication. If achlorhydria has developed as a result of some medical condition, then treatment is done for that condition to treat achlorhydria.
It is important that achlorhydria is treated ASAP, otherwise if not treated; patient can experience significant health issues and complications. So, if you are experiencing any digestive changes or worrisome symptoms, then consult your doctor immediately for the right treatment.