What is a stomach ulcer?
Stomach ulcers or gastric ulcers, are painful wounds that develop within the wall of the stomach. Gastric ulcers are a kind of peptic ulcer disease. Peptic ulcers are wounds that develop in the stomach and small bowel.
Stomach ulcers happen when the thick lining of the stomach, which protects your stomach from stomach acid, is reduced. This enables digestive acids to damage the tissues lining the stomach, resulting in an ulcer.
Stomach ulcers can be easy to treat, but they may become serious if no appropriate treatment is given.
What causes stomach ulcers?
Stomach ulcers are almost always due to one of the following factors:
- infection due to the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria
- Continued use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen.
Rarely, a condition known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome may cause stomach and bowel ulcers by producing too much acid. The condition is suspected to cause less than 1 percent of all peptic ulcers.
Symptoms of stomach ulcers
Several symptoms are associated with gastric ulcers. The severity of the symptoms is determined by the severity of the ulcer.
The most commonly occurring symptom is a burning sensation or pain in the middle of the abdomen between your chest and umbilicus. Typically, the pain will be more intense when you are fasting and may last from a few minutes to several hours.
Other commonly occurring signs and symptoms of ulcers include:
- Dull pain in the abdomen.
- weight loss
- reduced appetite as a result of pain.
- nausea or vomiting
- feel easily fulled.
- burping or acid reflux
- heartburn, It’s a burning sensation in your chest.)
- pain that can come from eating, drinking or taking antacids.
- anemia, May have symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, or pale skin.
- dark, tarry stools
- blood in vomit similar to coffee grounds.
Consult your physician if you experience symptoms of a stomach ulcer. Although the discomfort may be mild, sores may be severe if left untreated. Hemorrhagic ulcers can put people at risk.
How are stomach ulcers diagnosed?
You will be diagnosed and treated based on your symptoms and the severity of your ulcer. If you are diagnosed with a stomach ulcer, your doctor will check your medical history in addition to your symptoms and prescription or non-prescription drugs that you are taking.
For H pylori infection, a blood, stool or breath test can be conducted. With a breathalyzer, you will be instructed to drink a clear liquid and breathe in a bag, which will then be sealed. In the case of H pylori, the breath sample shall contain higher than normal levels of carbon dioxide.
Other tests and procedures are performed to diagnose stomach ulcers consist of:
- Barium swallow: You drink a dense white fluid (barium) that covers your upper gastrointestinal tract and makes it easy for your doctor to see your stomach and small intestine on X-rays.
- Endoscopy (EGD): A slim tube is fixed with light, inserted through your mouth and in the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. It is used to detect ulcers, bleeding and any abnormal tissue.
- Endoscopic biopsy: A piece of gastric tissue is collected for detailed laboratory examination.
Treating stomach ulcers
The therapy differs according to the cause of the ulcer. Most ulcers can be treated with a prescription from your physician, but in rare cases surgery may be necessary.
It is important to provide immediate treatment for an ulcer. Consult your doctor to determine the treatment plan. If you have an active hemorrhagic ulcer, you are likely to be hospitalized for intensive endoscopic and intravenous therapy. You may require a blood transfusion as well.
If your stomach ulcer is caused by H pylori, you will require antibiotics and medications known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs block acid-producing cells in the stomach.
In addition to these therapies, your physician may also prescribe:
- H2 receptor blockers (medicines that block the production of acid as well.)
- prevent the use of any NSAIDs.
- follow-up endoscopy
- probiotics (helpful bacteria which may play a role in the death of H pylori.)
- bismuth supplement
The symptoms of an ulcer can decrease very quickly with therapy. But even if your symptoms go away, you should still take your prescription drugs. This is especially important in the case of H pylori infections, to make sure that all bacteria are eliminated.
Side effects associated with drugs used to treat stomach ulcers may include:
Such side effects are typically transient. If one of these side effects causes extreme discomfort, consult your doctor to change your medicine.
In extremely rare cases, a complicated and severe stomach ulcer will require surgical intervention. This can apply to ulcers that:
- don’t heal
- tear through the stomach
- always recurs
- Keep food out of your stomach and out of your small bowel.
Surgery can consist of:
- whole ulcer is removed.
- remove the tissues from another part of the intestines and secure them to the site of the ulcer.
- tying off a bleeding artery
- cutting off the nervous supply to the stomach to reduce the production of stomach acid.
Before, it was believed that diet may cause ulcers. We now know that to be false. We also know that even if the food you eat does not cause or cure a stomach ulcer, a healthy diet can improve your intestinal tract and general health.
In general, it is preferable to eat a diet with many fruits, vegetables and fiber.
That said, it is possible that certain foods may help in the removal of H pylori. Foods which can help fight H pylori or enhance the body’s own healthy bacteria include:
- blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries
- broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and radishes
- leafy greens vegitables, like spinach
- probiotic-rich foods, such as sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, yogurt (mainly with lactobacillus and Sacharomyces)
- olive oil
In addition, as people with stomach ulcers may have associated acid reflux disease, This is an excellent choice to avoid spicy and acidic foods while an ulcer is healing.
Home remedies for stomach ulcers
In addition to eating a healthy diet, the following can help reduce the effects of H pylori, the bacterium that causes many stomach ulcers. However, these supplements are not reviewed as a replacement for prescription medications or your current treatment plan. They include:
- glutamine (food sources include: chicken, fish, eggs, spinach, and cabbage)
Your physician may also have suggestions or remedies for the things you can do at home to get rid of the discomfort of your ulcer.
When should you call or see a doctor?
If you suspect you have an ulcer in your stomach, talk to your doctor. In which you can discuss your symptoms and possible treatments.
It is important to take care of the stomach ulcer since if left untreated, ulcers and H pylori may cause:
- bleeding of ulcers that can be life-threatening.
- penetration, that occurs when the ulcer moves through the wall of the gastro-intestinal tract and into other organs, such as the pancreas.
- perforation, that occurs when the ulcer makes a hole in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
- obstruction (blockage) in the gastrointestinal tract, which is caused by swelling of inflamed tissues.
- stomach cancer, Especially non-cardiac gastric cancer
Symptoms of these conditions may include the following. If you develop any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
- difficulty breathing
- red or black vomit or stools
- sudden and acute pain in the abdomen which does not go away.
Prevention of stomach ulcers
To prevent the spread of bacteria that may cause abdominal ulcers, wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Also, be sure to clean up all your food and cook it completely if necessary.
To prevent ulcers from NSAIDs, discontinue or reduce the use of these drugs (if possible). If you must take NSAIDs, be sure to follow the prescribed dosage and stop drinking alcohol while you are taking these drugs. And always use these medicines with proper food and fluids.