Ulcers in the stomach and small intestine are nonetheless common in our society. About one out of every 10 Americans will suffer from the burning, abdominal pain of a gastric ulcer at some point in life.
Stomach ulcers are sores in the lining of the stomach or small intestine, which occur when the protective mucus that lines the stomach becomes ineffective.
The stomach produces a strong acid to help digest food and protect against microbes, and also secretes a thick layer of mucus to protect the tissues of the body from this acid.
If for some reason, the mucus layer is worn away and stops functioning effectively, the acid can damage the stomach tissue, causing an ulcer.
Stomach ulcers are relatively easy to cure, but they can cause noteworthy problems if left untreated.
What Is A Stomach Ulcer?
Stomach ulcers are also known as gastric ulcers. They are painful sores in the stomach lining and are a type of peptic ulcer disease. Peptic ulcers are any ulcers that affect the stomach and small intestines.
As stated earlier, stomach ulcers occur when the thick layer of mucus that protects your stomach from digestive juices is reduced, allowing the digestive acids to eat away at the tissues that line the stomach.
What Causes Ulcers?
For a long time, ulcers were thought to be caused by stress or excess amounts of stomach acid. However, while excessive stomach acid secretion certainly plays a role in the development of ulcers, bacterial infection is the primary cause of peptic ulcers. The two most common causes of ulcers are Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
Research conducted since the mid-1980s has shown that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori are present in more than 90% of duodenal ulcers and about 80% of stomach ulcers. Ulcers are also caused by the use of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
A rare condition known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers by acting up the body’s production of acid. This condition is suspected to cause less than 1% of all peptic ulcers. Ulcers can affect appetite and cause nausea, vomiting, or bleeding.
Symptoms Of Stomach Ulcers
People with ulcers can have a wide variety of symptoms, and some may experience no symptoms at all. In rare instances, some people can develop life-threatening complications, such as bleeding.
Some of the more common symptoms may include:
- abdominal pain,
- fatigue, or
- black stools.
The severity of the symptoms usually depends on the severity of the ulcer, and the most common symptom is a burning sensation or pain in the middle of your abdomen between your chest and belly button.
Other signs and symptoms of ulcers include:
- lack of appetite because of pain
- dull pain in the stomach
- weight loss
- feeling easily full
- burping or acid reflux
- heartburn(burning sensation in the chest)
- pain that may improve when you eat, drink, or take antacids
- vomit that’s bloody or looks like coffee grounds, and
- dark, tarry stools
Stomach Ulcers Diagnoses
To diagnose a stomach ulcer, your physician may review your medical history along with your symptoms and any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking. To rule out H. pylori infection, a blood, stool, or breath test may be arranged.
Other tests and procedures used to diagnose stomach ulcers include:
- Barium swallow, where you drink a thick white liquid (barium) that coats your upper gastrointestinal tract and helps your doctor see your stomach and small intestine on X-rays.
- Endoscopic biopsy, where a piece of stomach tissue is removed so it can be analyzed in a lab.
- Endoscopy (EGD), where a thin, lighted tube is inserted through your mouth and into the stomach and the first part of the small intestine and is used to look for ulcers, bleeding, and any tissue that looks abnormal.
Treatment Of Stomach Ulcers
In rare cases, surgery may be required; otherwise, most ulcers can be treated with a prescription from your doctor.
It’s important to promptly treat an ulcer, and if you have an actively bleeding ulcer, you’ll likely be hospitalized for intensive treatment with endoscopy and IV ulcer medications.
If your stomach ulcer is the result of H. pylori, you’ll need antibiotics and drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which block the stomach cells that produce acid.
In addition to these treatments, your doctor may also recommend:
- stopping the use of all NSAIDs
- follow-up endoscopy
- bismuth supplement
- using bacteria that may have a role in killing off pylori (probiotics)
- In very rare cases, a complicated stomach ulcer will require surgery, especially in cases of ulcers that continue to return, bleed, tear through the stomach, and keep food from flowing out of the stomach into the small intestine
Home Remedies For Stomach Ulcers
Dietary changes can help prevent stomach ulcers from developing, and people at risk of stomach ulcers should include more of the following nutrients in their diet:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Probiotics (food that contains active bacterial content, such as probiotic yogurt, can help to reduce a Helicobacter pylori (pylori) infection).
- Vitamin C, which may be effective in helping to eradicate pylori, especially when taken in small doses over an extended period.
- Zinc is important for maintaining a healthy immune system and healing of wounds. Oysters, spinach, and beef contain significant levels of zinc.
- Selenium may reduce the risk of infectious complications and may also promote healing, and Brazil nuts, yellowfin tuna, and halibut are recommended for their high selenium content.
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine can also help reduce the risk, as they both cause the body to produce more gastric acid, which can lead to stomach ulcers.
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Certain behaviors and factors like frequent steroid usage, smoking, genetics, and consuming alcohol frequently, increase the chances of developing a stomach ulcer.
People can develop a stomach ulcer at any age, but they are much less common in children and are more common in individuals over 50 years of age.
To prevent the spread of bacteria that might cause a stomach ulcer, wash your hands with soap and water on a regular basis, and be sure to properly clean all of your food and to cook it thoroughly as needed.
To prevent ulcers caused by NSAIDs, stop using these medications or limit their use, ensuring to follow the recommended dosage. Always take these medications with food and make sure you are adequately hydrated.