Stomach ulcers are open sores that form on the lining of the stomach due to its breakage. It’s common in people who consume loads of spicy foods to be prone to inflammation of the stomach lining. Those who are addicted to smoking and drinking alcohol are equally at risk of developing stomach ulcers.
Ulcers can happen at any age; however, they are more likely to affect people above the age 50. They usually occur when the protective mucus lining the inner area of the stomach gets reduced.
Stomach ulcers are also referred to as peptic ulcers, especially when they occur in the stomach lining (gastric ulcer) or the duodenum (duodenal ulcer). Men and women are equally affected with stomach ulcer.
Overview of stomach ulcer
The acid produced in the stomach helps in digestion of food as well as getting rid of any infectious agents entering the stomach along with the food. There is a thick layer of mucus that lines the first part of the small intestine and the stomach. This mucus protects these organs from getting damaged by the acid. When the mucosal layer becomes thin or functions abnormally, or one develops acid refluxes, the acid can damage the lining of the stomach, duodenum and the esophagus. This leads to the formation of ulcers.
These ulcers can vary in size from about 5 mm to several centimeters. When the damage is less than 5 mm in size, it is called as erosion.
Warning Signs of Stomach ulcers
Stomach ulcers develop when the following symptoms become very often:
- Acidity, bloating, indigestion
- Nausea and vomiting, heartburn
- Burning pain in the upper stomach after eating
- Pain in the upper abdomen, at the end of rib cage
- Anemia symptoms – weakness, light-headedness
- Bloody vomit that appears bright red or grainy and dark brown
- Dark tarry, foul smelling stool
Do stomach ulcers pose a health threat?
You should never delay in getting a medical checkup as these ulcers pose considerable health risks.
- It calls for a medical emergency when the ulcers cause internal bleeding.
- Non treatment of these ulcers can eventually perforate through the walls of the stomach, as a result of which the digestive juices and food seep into the abdominal cavity. This is a typical case of a perforated ulcer.
- The sores can block the gastric outlet
Causes of Stomach Ulcers
- Infection of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori in the stomach
- Frequent consumption of pain killerslike NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.)
- Consumption of spicy foods
- Excessive smoking
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Family history of peptic ulcer
Diagnosis of Stomach Ulcers
Your doctor can assume that you are suffering from stomach ulcers from the symptoms explained by you. To confirm the exact cause and the severity of the disorder, you may need to undergo the following tests:
- Endoscopy of the stomach
- On detecting an ulcer, a biopsy follows endoscopy
- The C-14 breath test determines presence of H.pylori. The patient is asked to swallow a specific amount of radioactive carbon as the bacteria can produce CO2 from urea.
- Bowel test, blood tests and culture of tissue samples are also done to detect presence of H.pylori
Treatment of Stomach Ulcers
- If the ulcers are at an initial stage, then your doctor will ask you to alter your lifestyle and food habits. You will be completely restricted from smoking, drinking and consuming spicy and oily foods. Your diet will be free from gas inducing foods.
- Secondly, if NSAIDs overdose is the cause of the ulcer, you have to completely stop taking those drugs.
- Several ulcer medicines or acid suppressants, like proton pump inhibitors and H2-receptor antagonists will be suggested to protect your stomach from acid burn.
- Antibiotics will definitely be prescribed if presence of H.pylori has been diagnosed.
- A surgery is performed to treat perforated ulcers.
What to expect?
The healing process of ulcers is a lot dependent upon your lifestyle and how religiously you follow your doctor’s advice. The symptoms usually decline or completely disappear after completing the course of medicine. The same applies to H.pylori infection.
However, you may still have to undergo an endoscopy and H.pylori tests to finally reassure the state the stomach lining. Depending upon the reports your treatment may or may not continue. Patients who have undergone surgery, also recover after certain period.
Ulcers are definitely painful and your entire digestive process gets disrupted. Though,they heal completely in due course of time, it’s better to follow the mantra, “prevention is better than cure”.
Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: February 22, 2015