Stomach Ulcers usually occur due to a defect, breach or break in the mucosal lining of the inner stomach wall. These ulcers can develop inside the stomach (called gastric ulcers) or inside the first few inches of the small intestine below the stomach ulcers.
Stomach Ulcers are neither cancerous nor contagious. However, they are painful conditions to deal with and can cause extreme pain and discomfort to an individual. And while duodenal ulcers remain benign, stomach ulcers can turn malignant without proper care. The main cause for the formation of stomach ulcers happens to be an infection caused by the bacteria called Helicobacter Pylori. The infection causes the mucosal lining of the stomach to become weak, leading to a breach or break in the same.
Stomach ulcers can also be caused by several other factors like inherited genetic traits, a weak or gastric mucosal lining, injury caused to the mucosal lining, excess secretion of stomach acid (digestive juices), stress, smoking and constant use of certain anti-inflammatory medications (for ex: aspirin), corticosteroids and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications).
In addition to the above mentioned causes, there are certain risk factors that make an individual more prone to gastric and duodenal ulcers. These include improper diet (irregular meals), skipping meals, family history of peptic ulcers,medical ailments like the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, chronic ailments like rheumatoid arthritis, liver disease or emphysema, and Type O Blood group.
Complications of Stomach Ulcers
Stomach ulcers can create a lot of problems if left untreated. One of the most common complications arising from the condition is unbearable pain resulting from the agitation and damage caused to the nerves surrounding the mucosal lining. In certain cases, stomach ulcers can cause swelling or spasms, which in turn can obstruct the gastrointestinal tract (the path from the stomach to the small intestine).
In severe cases, stomach ulcers can cause a blood vessel to erode. This can lead to internal bleeding or even hemorrhages. In the worst case scenario, the ulcer can become so severe that it burns a hole right through the stomach or intestinal wall. When this occurs, partly digested foods and the digestive juices would escape into the surrounding regions, including the abdominal cavity. This is a life threatening situation that would need to be treated immediately via medical or surgical means.
Common Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers
The most common symptom of stomach ulcers happens to be a pain or burning sensation that remains in the stomach area from anywhere between half an hour to 4 hours. This sensation would either occur immediately after a person has finished eating or affect a person several hours after eating. Usually unbearable, the sensation would be consistent or disappear for a few weeks before resurfacing again.
Any ulcer that is exposed to pepsin is referred to as peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers are found in the lining of your stomach or duodenum. Pepsin is normally present along with hydrochloric acid in the stomach lining. There are many symptoms of peptic ulcers that are worth checking out.
When a peptic ulcer is in your stomach, it is called a gastric ulcer. The symptoms of gastric ulcers are more specific than peptic ulcer symptoms.
When a peptic ulcer is in your duodenum, it is called a duodenal ulcer. This type of peptic ulcer develops in the first part of the small intestine. Some of the symptoms of a duodenal ulcer are interestingly quite opposite to those of gastric ulcers. Duodenal ulcers are the most common ulcers found in the Western world.
Diagnosis of Stomach Ulcers
Stomach Ulcers are usually diagnosed in two ways. The C14 Breath Test is used to determine the levels of the Helicobacter Pylori bacteria in the mouth and stomach. The individual in question would be asked to swallow a substance that contains traces of radioactive carbon (C14). He/she is then asked to breathe into an instrument that would determine the presence of the infectious bacteria in the body and the levels of the same. Increased levels of the bacteria would signify possible infection (stomach ulcer).
Stomach ulcers can also be diagnosed by another test called endoscopy which involves inserting a thin, flexible tube into the individual’s stomach via the esophagus. The tube would contain a tiny microscope that would relay back images of the stomach and intestine. If an ulcer is detected, the tube would take a small sample of it. The sample would be tested for malignancy (the severity of the infection) and treatment would be considered accordingly.
Treatments for Stomach Ulcers
Some individuals feel that changing their diet and eating habits would have an effect on their ulcer problem. The truth is, it won’t. Diet changes are known to have little or no impact on stomach ulcers. Rather, the condition would have to be treated via medications, certain lifestyle changes and proper follow up care.
Medications to treat Stomach Ulcers
Concerns with Existing Medications
Certain medications for routine or chronic illnesses, infections, disorders and diseases can cause stomach ulcers or contribute to an existing condition. These include medications used to treat conditions like arthritis and liver disease etc. In certain cases, failing to adhere to the doctors’ advice when taking prescribed medications can also cause flare ups.
In these cases, the medications used to treat these conditions would have to be either replaced by other drugs or altered (their doses would need to be altered) to suit the body. Individuals should also make sure that they follow the doctors’ instructions to the ‘T’ when taking prescribed medications for other ailments.
Acid Reduction in the Stomach
Excess levels of digestive juices (stomach acids) in the stomach would also lead to stomach ulcers. In these cases, the individual in question would need to take tablets and other medications that would help reduce the acid content in his/her stomach. This would in turn prevent frequent flare ups in addition to helping the ulcer heal properly.
Follow Up Tests
Individuals with stomach ulcers would need to opt for periodic checkups and follow up tests to make sure the ulcer heals completely. The C14 Breath Test would be carried out at least a couple of times during these visits to ensure that the infection levels (pertaining to the H. Pylori bacteria) are low.
Periodic checkups would also ensure the effectiveness of the treatment suggested for the condition. A specific medication or treatment for stomach ulcer is said to be successful if the symptoms of the condition reduce gradually during the follow up tests.
Necessary Lifestyle Changes
Since changes to the existing diet would not help heal a stomach ulcer, individuals suffering from the condition would need to opt for other lifestyle changes to reduce the symptoms and prevent recurrences. Giving up smoking and alcohol consumption (at limiting them) can help the stomach heal properly after an ulcer attack. Therefore, individuals with stomach ulcers are urged to get rid of their smoking and drinking habits during treatment and afterwards (for a few months at least).