Stomach Ulcer: What Do You Need to Know?
Do you have a burning stomach pain that has you popping antacids as though they’re candy? If this pain is an ongoing problem for you, a stomach ulcer could be to blame. These ulcers often get worse without treatment, so it’s important to let your doctor know about your stomach pain. The good news is that there are medications that can treat stomach ulcers, allowing you to feel normal again.
What Is a Stomach Ulcer?
A stomach ulcer, sometimes called a peptic ulcer, occurs when the acids that digest your food damage the stomach wall. Stomach ulcers are usually the result of a bacterial infection.
Here are some terms to keep in mind to help you understand stomach ulcers:
- Antacids: medicines that neutralize acids in the stomach
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): a group of anti-inflammatory medicines including ibuprofen and aspirin
Stages and Types of Stomach Ulcers
If you don’t get treatment for a stomach ulcer, it can develop into a more serious condition:
- Bleeding: Your ulcer can bleed, which may cause your stools to look dark and can lead to anemia.
- Perforation: The ulcer can become so severe that it creates a hole in the wall of the stomach out of which food can leak, which is a severe situation, but it is rare.
Symptoms and Causes
Most stomach ulcers are caused by a type of bacteria called H. pylori. However, taking NSAIDs for a long time can also cause stomach ulcers. A small number of stomach ulcers are caused by other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease or stomach cancer.
The typical symptoms of a stomach ulcer include the following:
- Pain in the stomach that temporarily goes away if you take antacids
Prevention and Risks
The following people are more likely to get stomach ulcers:
- People who frequently use NSAID medicines like aspirin or ibuprofen
- Heavy drinkers
- Older people
You can reduce your risks of a stomach ulcer by limiting your alcohol intake to two drinks per day and only taking painkillers when you need to. If you frequently take ibuprofen or aspirin to treat other conditions, talk to your doctor about your risk of developing an ulcer.
Frequently washing your hands may also help to reduce your risk of becoming infected with H. pylori, which causes most stomach ulcers.
Diagnosis and Tests
Doctors use these tests to diagnose a stomach ulcer:
- Endoscopy: A doctor inserts a camera into your stomach through a thin tube to see whether there is an ulcer.
- Blood, breath, and stool tests: Doctors use these tests to look for signs of H. pylori infection.
- Biopsy: During an endoscopy, a doctor might take a small sample of the ulcer to check these cells for cancer. Cancer does not cause most ulcers, but it’s important to rule out stomach cancer as a possible cause.
Treatment, Prevention, and Medication
Many people go to their family doctors when they first experience the symptoms of a stomach ulcer. Your doctor can prescribe medications that might help your ulcer, or they can refer you to a gastroenterologist for further examination.
A gastroenterologist can carry out tests to look at your ulcers, such as an endoscopy and biopsies. A gastroenterologist can also treat the ulcer.
If tests confirm that H. pylori is the cause of your ulcer, your doctor will give you antibiotics to kill the bacteria. You might also need to take medication to reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes. There are two types of acid-reducing medication: proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers. These medications work in slightly different ways, but they both reduce acid production, allowing your ulcer to heal.
In rare cases, such as when the ulcer works its way through the stomach wall, you might need surgery to treat a stomach ulcer. However, medication can cure most ulcers.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
While you’re recovering from a stomach ulcer, you might find it helps to stop smoking and avoid drinking alcohol. These irritate the lining of the stomach and can make your symptoms worse.
You might also find that it helps to eat small, regular meals, rather than having large meals with long gaps between them. Stress can make you feel worse even though it doesn’t directly cause ulcers, so try your best to manage your stress levels.
Try to avoid these foods when suffering from a stomach ulcer:
- Spicy foods
- Carbonated drinks
Also, eat a healthy diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables. The fiber in these foods might help to support your recovery from a stomach ulcer.
Some sources suggest that flavonoids, which are found in apples, celery, cranberries, garlic, onions and tea, could help combat the growth of H. pylori.
Living with a stomach ulcer can be painful and disrupt your normal life. Don’t hesitate to see your doctor if you have regular stomach pain. Most stomach ulcers can be treated with medication, allowing you to feel like yourself again. Read more about stomach ulcers in our other articles to learn how to care for yourself during your recovery.
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