Our stomach consists of many digestive fluids that help in the digestion of food. These fluids include acid, mucus, bile juice and many more enzymes. The presence of normal amounts of acid in the stomach is vital and ordinary, but sometimes the acid levels in the stomach rise which leads to painful sores on the lining of stomach, oesophagus, and small intestine. This condition is known as stomach ulcers or gastric ulcers.
Stomach ulcers are not unusual, and almost 1 million cases are reported globally every year. This condition is treatable if diagnosed early. Now, what we aim at doing is leading you to a right path so that you have all the general knowledge about stomach ulcers if you have them, might get them, or just want to be a know-it-all. Read on this extensive article to fulfil all your knowledge needs!
Stomach ulcer causes
The stomach is protected from the harsh acid inside it with the help of a mucus layer on its inner walls. When due to any reason the mucus layer wears away or the acid levels rise, tiny or big sores that open and bleed are caused on the inner walls. There are many symptoms that indicate a person having this condition.
Let us elaborate on all the potential causes one by one.
1. Those germs!
Some bacteria like Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori) which is contacted through intimate contact like kissing an infected person, drinking contaminated water and eating adulterated food can cause inflammation on the walls of the stomach. This inflammation keeps growing till an ulcer is formed. Studies say that by age 60, every person gets infected by this bacteria at least once. Stay safe people!
2. Painkillers can cause pain as well
Over-the-counter, non-steroidal pain relievers (aka NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, ketoprofen, or naproxen can result in stomach inflammation, which is a common cause of ulcers if used regularly. If you are a regular user of these NSAIDs, then it is recommended to stop using them so that the symptoms do not get worse.
3. Avoid lethal combinations
NSAIDs, in combination with steroids, blood-thinners, and Fosamax and risedronate (drugs for osteoporosis treatment), can be your stomach’s enemy. These combinations can cause damage to the same or even worse amount as that caused by aspirin and likeness.
4. Could cancer be a potential cause?
Some conditions, like Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome (ZES), can cause gastrinomas (tumour growths) inside the pancreas, and small intestine. People with this condition experience increased levels of acid caused due to a hormone released by the gastrinomas. As we mentioned earlier, increased acid levels can lead to stomach ulcers. However, gastrinomas do not always grow to become cancerous tumours.
5. Maybe do not spice it up so much!
Eating spicy food is not the most common and frequent cause of stomach ulcers, but it can make the symptom of stomach ulcers worse. Too much spicy food in addition to alcohol, citrus foods, caffeine, and chocolate, is known to cause gastritis and which can make the symptoms of ulcer worse.
Stomach ulcer symptoms
Stomach ulcers can cause sharp pain and burning sensation between breastbone and belly button. This sensation can persist for as short as a few minutes and as long as hours. Stomach ulcer pains can also be felt in between two meals when the stomach is empty, and in the middle of the night as well.
Some other symptoms of stomach ulcers besides pain are nausea, bloating, and uneasy fullness. People with ulcers can experience a queasy feeling and extreme nausea. The vomit may look like coffee grounds and have blood spots in it.
These symptoms are also followed by the bloating of stomach, blood-laden or black stools, and burping more than average. It also results in reduced appetite and weight-loss. Another common symptom of ulcers is heartburn caused by acid reflux.
Almost, three-fourths of the population affected by stomach ulcers are asymptomatic and might not feel a thing till the ulcers start to bleed.
Also read- Feeling Nauseated? Know The Reason Behind It
Diagnosis of stomach ulcers
Medical health professionals diagnose stomach ulcers by a variety of methods.
- A breath test is performed, which requires the patient to drink a clear liquid and breathe into a bag to analyse his/her breath for H Pylori. If the breath contains high levels of oxygen, then the test results are positive.
- The doctor will check the patient’s medical history after getting familiar with their symptoms and check whether they were taking any prescribed over-the-counter medicine. The treatment depends on the severity of the ulcer and its symptoms.
- For the doctor to be able to see the patient’s stomach and small intestine, he performs a test called “Barium Swallow”. Liquid barium is a thick liquid that coats the gastrointestinal tract and helps the doctor see the stomach and the small intestine on X-ray.
- A thin tube is inserted into the stomach through the mouth and is extended till the first part of the small intestine. This process is called Endoscopy. The tube inserted inside is lighted, making it convenient for the doctor to check for any abnormalities or bleeding.
- Another procedure called Endoscopic Biopsy, in which a part of the patient’s stomach tissue is taken to be analysed in the lab.
Stomach ulcer treatment
There are many surgical and non-surgical treatments available for the treatment of stomach ulcers. Surgery is rarely required to treat a peptic ulcer. In extreme cases, the patient may need to be hospitalised and require a blood transfusion if the ulcer is bleeding too much.
- H2 receptor blockers, proton pump inhibitors, probiotics, bismuth supplements, and stopping use of all the NSAIDs at once are some of the non-surgical treatments available to cure stomach ulcers. Still, they may cause some side-effects like diarrhoea, headaches, and dizziness.
- Surgical treatments like removing the entire ulcer, tying up the artery that is bleeding, reducing the acid supply to the stomach by cutting off the nerve supply, and patching the ulcer site by taking tissue from an unaffected site of the small intestine are also available.
- A healthy diet which includes probiotic-rich foods, leafy green vegetables, fruits, and olive oil are also known to fight-off H pylori.
All said and done; there are many ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent ulcers. Which means, science has got your back and so do we!