If you have a persistent pain in your tummy, especially after a meal, it could be the symptoms of a stomach ulcer. Read more about its causes and treatment.
It has been discovered by an international team of scientists that the bacteria responsible for the most painful type of stomach ulcers, the helicobacter pylori, has been present in the digestive system of human beings since man first migrated from Africa, more than 60,000 years ago. Do you wake up in the middle of the night because of a gnawing burning sensation in your abdominal region? Or do you get it a few hours after a meal? Do you have to take antacids to relieve the pain? Do you also have nausea, weight loss, vomiting, appetite loss, tarry black stools, or are vomiting blood? If the answers to these questions are in the affirmative, then you need to go to your doctor promptly, for, the chances are high that you have a stomach ulcer.
Sores that form in the lining of the stomach or the duodenum are referred to as ulcers. Those that occur in the stomach are known as gastric ulcers, while the ones that erupt in the duodenum are known as duodenal ulcers. A more generalized term is peptic ulcer, which includes both the above. Stomach polyps can sometimes be malignant.
In the US, stomach ulcers affect about 4 million people each year. According to estimates, about 20 million Americans get at least one stomach ulcer in their lifetime, of which at least 40,000 undergo surgery. And ulcer-related complications kill about 6,000 of them.
The problem is that often when people first experience the symptoms of a stomach ulcer, they mistake them for other conditions such as indigestion, acid reflux, or hunger pangs. This is why many people delay going to the doctor until the matter becomes serious.
Stomach ulcers are caused when a part of the stomach’s lining, which is made up of layers of mucous, is destroyed. These layers of mucous are what protect the stomach from digesting itself by the digestive acids it produces to break down food. Medical practitioners agree that hydrochloric acid, one of the digestive acids produced in the stomach, is generally responsible for actually destroying the damaged protective lining of the stomach.
So, the question then arises, what is it that causes the actual breakdown of the mucous lining? The most common culprit for causing this damage of the stomach’s lining is the stomach getting infected by the aforementioned bacterium, the helicobacter pylori, also referred to as H.pylori, which is spread via contaminated water or food. While most people who are afflicted with ulcers are found to have the H.pylori living in their gastrointestinal tract, it has also been seen that many people have this organism in their GI tract without developing ulcers.
Hence, it is suspected that there could be many other reasons, apart from the H.pylori, for stomach ulcers developing, such as the stomach secreting more hydrochloric acid than can be handled by the lining, family or genetic predisposition, using anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin excessively, and psychological stress. Additionally, a number of other factors are also thought to contribute to the development of ulcers, like aging, smoking, poor diet and obesity.
The best way of determining whether you have a stomach ulcer, and what may be causing it, is to consult your doctor. Your doctor, after conducting an examination and confirming it, will decide on an appropriate course of treatment.
Two different methods are used generally to treat stomach ulcers: medication, along with surgery, and lifestyle changes. The most common medications used are H2 Blockers, mucosal protective agents, and proton pumps. These are designed to either minimize the discomfort or effects of the stomach ulcer, or cure it.
H2 Blockers: These reduce the secretion of acids by the stomach. H2 blockers taken before going to bed can cure gastric ulcers in two months or so and duodenal ulcers in about a month. H2 blockers include Cimetidine, Nizatidine, Ranitidine, and Famotidine.
Mucosal Protective Agents: As is implied by the name, these agents protect the stomach’s mucous lining. These medications do not need a prescription and are available over the counter, such as Rolaids, otherwise known as Tums, and sucralfate, which forms a protective layer on the area where the ulcer is, in order to allow it to heal.
Proton Pump Inhibitors: These are also used to inhibit the production of acids by the stomach. They include Esomeprazole, Omeprazole, Pantoprazole, and Lansoprazole.
Antibiotics will be prescribed if H.pylori is detected as the cause of the stomach ulcer.
Surgery may be resorted to if the ulcers do not respond to the medications. Antrectomy, vagotomy, and pyloroplasty are the most common surgeries that are used to treat stomach ulcers.
Since smoking, stress, poor diet, obesity, and excessive use of anti-inflammatory drugs are also thought to be contributory factors, making lifestyle changes will also be usually advised.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.