I’m sure you’ve heard of stomach ulcers, but do you know what they really are?
They can be quite painful and debilitating and if not treated in time, can even become fatal!
It is said that there are over 10 million cases of pud gastrointestinal in the world today!
Thankfully, modern medicine has come up with treatments that can help prevent ulcers and heal them.
In this article, we’ll go over the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of stomach ulcers so you have a better understanding of what they are and how to treat them.
What is a Stomach Ulcer?
- The medical term for a stomach ulcer is peptic ulcer disease, which refers to many peptic ulcers. A peptic ulcer is a sore on any part of your gastrointestinal tract, including your stomach and small intestine.
- Stomach ulcers are painful open sores that form in the stomach's lining. They are usually caused by acid reflux, which is when stomach acid leaks back up into the esophagus.
- Peptic ulcers are very common in adults over 50 years old, but younger people can get them too. They’re also more common in men than women and occur more often in Caucasian people than people of other races or ethnicities.
- At least half of all Americans who have ever smoked will develop a peptic ulcer during their lives! If you don’t already smoke, avoid it to protect yourself from getting one.
There are a variety of ulcers. However, among the more well-known is the duodenal ulcer. This kind of ulcer can be found in the middle or near the close of the small intestine (duodenum).
If you eat food, it travels through your stomach before entering the small intestine. Since it takes the time it takes for food to travel through the small intestine, it is possible to experience upset stomachs if you consume food that takes longer than normal to digest.
Duodenal ulcers are usually formed when there’s excessive acidity within your stomach. Contrary to gastric ulcers (described below), duodenal ulcers don’t occur because of the absence of acid. They simply contain higher levels of acid than normal.
What causes stomach ulcers?
- A stomach ulcer (also called a peptic ulcer) is a slight break in the inner lining of your stomach or the first part of your small intestine.
- If an ulcer isn’t treated, it can cause serious illness and sometimes lead to death.
- Scientists don’t know exactly what causes some people to get them, but they think many things can play a role.
- It might have something to do with how much stomach acid you make or not making enough of certain chemicals in your gut that help protects against infection and keep blood vessels healthy.
Symptoms of stomach ulcers
- The most common symptom of a stomach ulcer is abdominal pain and tenderness that occurs around your belly button.
- Although you may associate abdominal pain with a heart attack, in fact, people with stomach ulcers are more likely to be misdiagnosed with a heart problem than they are to get proper treatment for their ulcer.
- Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite. Left untreated, an ulcer can lead to internal bleeding or perforation (the formation of a hole) in your gastrointestinal tract.
- People who have had gastric bypass surgery for weight loss are at risk of having stomach ulcers.
How are stomach ulcers diagnosed?
Before a doctor can prescribe an ulcer treatment, he or she will have to determine if you actually have a stomach ulcer.
It’s not always easy to tell if you have one of these common skin ailments, as symptoms are similar for various gastrointestinal conditions (such as gastroesophageal reflux disease) and other skin conditions (such as psoriasis).
A few diagnostic tests may include an endoscopy:
This is a procedure in which your doctor uses an instrument with a light and lens on its tip, called an endoscope, to look inside your esophagus and stomach.
- This is an infection caused by bacteria called pylori. Pylori can live in your stomach, causing no symptoms.
- However, certain risk factors, such as cigarette smoking and stress, can increase your chances of getting a pylori infection.
- If you get an infection and it’s not treated, it can cause gastritis inflammation of the lining of your stomach.
- Long-term inflammation can eventually lead to cancer and a condition called atrophic gastritis, which causes delayed emptying of food from your stomach.
- But when combined with stress and alcohol use (which leads to acid reflux), a pylori infection is often what causes peptic ulcers.
- A bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori) causes stomach ulcers in people who are infected with it.
- In most cases, H. pylori are picked up during childhood through contact with family members who have it.
- The infection then goes dormant in many people, only to flare up when they’re adults and their immune systems are weakened by other illnesses or prescription drugs.
- People without a history of stomach issues can pick up H.
Treating stomach ulcers
The tricky thing about stomach ulcers is that they can be difficult to treat because of their varied causes.
The most common treatments include antacids, which ease pain and are harmless if used in moderation. But some patients need more serious treatment, like prescription drugs or surgery.
These may solve a problem but also come with risks and side effects that should be weighed by your doctor before you decide on a course of action.
In addition, treating an ulcer won’t make it go away entirely; you’ll still have to figure out what caused it in order to avoid getting another one.
- It’s not uncommon for doctors to prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to help ease the pain. Your doctor will probably recommend an over-the-counter remedy like ibuprofen, which you can easily find at most drugstores.
- You can also ask your doctor about prescription medications; if you have severe stomach ulcer pain, you may be prescribed stronger medication for a limited time.
- Usually, there’s no need to worry about the long-term use of these medicines; when taken in moderation and as directed by your doctor, they are safe and effective ways to treat and manage stomach ulcer symptoms.
A healthy diet for stomach ulcers
Here are some guidelines on what types of foods to avoid if you have stomach ulcers. A healthy diet can help prevent stomach ulcers and keep them from coming back. It will also help speed up your recovery time once you have an ulcer.
Avoid acidic foods: Acidic foods like coffee, orange juice, chocolate, and tomatoes can burn your delicate stomach lining and make an existing ulcer worse.
Cut out coffee for good: While it’s possible to give up coffee altogether, it’s probably not worth worrying about a little morning cup of joe if it makes you feel better.
Just be sure to drink that cup slowly so that your body has time to adjust after that initial jolt of caffeine.
10 Painful Facts About Stomach Ulcers
Stomach ulcers increase your risk of cancer
- If you suffer from stomach ulcers, then you’re at an increased risk of developing gastric cancer.
- This may sound bad enough as it is, but it’s important to keep in mind that research has shown that if left untreated, stomach ulcers can increase your chances of getting cancer by a further 25 percent.
- So, if you do have stomach ulcers, be sure to get them checked out and get treatment as soon as possible. You don’t want to find yourself faced with both conditions at once!
They often go undiagnosed for years
- One of the most frustrating parts about stomach ulcers is that they often go undiagnosed for years. When your doctor runs tests on you, he or she will likely find evidence of a bacterial infection and tell you to take an antibiotic for two weeks.
- When there's no change in your symptoms at all after those two weeks, your doctor may assume that it's something else and send you home with a diagnosis of IBS or GERD and some medications to treat those conditions.
- You'll keep taking those medications for years because doctors don't consider that an ulcer might be contributing to your problems.
- Even when stomach cancer is suspected by a doctor, many people still aren't diagnosed with stomach ulcers until their cancer is already advanced and difficult to treat effectively.
There’s no cure, but you can treat them
- facts about stomach ulcers are that there’s no cure for an ulcer in your stomach, but there are steps you can take to treat them and reduce symptoms.
- The most important one is avoiding triggers (such as stress and alcohol) so they don’t come back and following a healthy diet with plenty of fiber which can help prevent them from developing in the first place.
- And if you already have an ulcer, your doctor might recommend over-the-counter pain medications to relieve symptoms.
- If you think you may have a more serious health condition than a sore stomach, though, it’s important to get checked out right away by your doctor. This way, they can make sure everything else is okay while they treat your ulcer.
The food you eat affects your digestive system
- Our bodies need in order to digest food in order to absorb nutrients. However, certain food items are especially hard on the digestive system. This could lead to stomach ulcers that develop within the body.
- One of these food items is known as food rich in sulfur. Sulfur can cause irritation to your digestive system, causing stomach ulcers.
- Some of the foods high in sulfur are seafood, eggs as well as cheese, garlic onions, and cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli).
- Avoid eating processed meats like sausages and deli meats because they're typically preserved using sulfites that are extremely injurious to our digestive systems.
NSAIDs cause many stomach problems
- Over-the-counter pain relievers, like Advil and Aleve, can be very helpful in reducing inflammation, but they also seem to cause stomach problems in many people.
- Common over-the-counter pain relievers are an easy way to decrease your risk of developing stomach ulcers and reduce your risk of having painful flare-ups.
- In fact, studies have shown that certain NSAIDs can increase your risk of serious conditions like a heart attack or stroke.
- Make sure you talk with your doctor before starting any type of medication for arthritis pain; you might find some natural ways to manage pain as well if you’re trying to stay away from medication.
Heartburn isn’t caused by too much stomach acid!
- If you’ve ever had heartburn, you probably think stomach acid is to blame.
- If so, you’re wrong. Heartburn is actually caused by a pyloric sphincter in your stomach that allows food to move from your stomach into your intestines and it’s not working properly.
- It doesn’t matter how much (or little) acid is in your stomach because heartburn doesn’t stem from a problem with too much or too little acid, it’s because of structural problems in the body.
Poor Diet Causes 90% Of Stomach Problems
- The medical community is well aware of how a poor diet is related to stomach problems.
- Studies have shown that 90% of all stomach ulcers are caused by damage from acid and pepsin, which are enzymes produced in your stomach.
- While too much acid isn’t a direct cause of ulcers, it helps to create an environment that’s ideal for bacteria growth. If you want to prevent any more stomach pain, take your diet seriously.
- To minimize risk and avoid any more painful symptoms, consider adding these healthy foods to your diet: lemons, apples, carrots, and ginger roots.
Coffee causes acid reflux
- While some people think that coffee causes acid reflux, it is actually a stimulant to your digestive system. The caffeine in coffee stimulates your body, which can cause acid reflux when taken with or after a meal.
- Most doctors believe that drinking plenty of water and eating small meals throughout the day are better choices for those who suffer from heartburn or stomach ulcers.
- If you still feel like coffee worsens your symptoms, consider switching to decaf, cutting back on how much you drink each day, or trying an herbal remedy.
Stress Can Cause Acid Reflux Or Indigestion
- Stress can also be a major cause of acid reflux and indigestion in certain people.
- Stress causes stomach ulcers because it releases harmful chemicals into your system, which destroy tissues and irritate your stomach lining.
- Stress and overindulgence in spicy foods, for example, can lead to heartburn and other forms of acid reflux.
- To prevent stress-related acid reflux or indigestion, try meditating or exercising more often during stressful times; both activities have been shown to reduce symptoms dramatically.
Smoking Causes Deeper Ulcers
- Smoking doesn’t cause ulcers. Instead, it can lead to a type of stomach cancer called adenocarcinoma.
- In addition, smoking can also lead to other digestive tract cancers that occur when acidic stomach contents flow upward into your esophagus and small intestine, including lymphomas (cancers of white blood cells) and Kaposi’s sarcomas (cancers of connective tissue).
- These types of cancer are rare in people who don’t smoke or aren’t exposed to secondhand smoke; still, if you have an ulcer, it’s important not to smoke or be around others who do.
- The combination of stress and nicotine appears to weaken stomach walls, the perfect scenario for creating an ulcer.
With about 4.8 million recent cases of stomach ulcers diagnosed each year, pay extra attention to your health and diet as a means of prevention.
Besides asking your doctor about preventative measures, make sure you’re getting enough sleep (7-9 hours per night), reducing stress levels, and ensuring that you’re eating healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.