Do you often feel that gnawing pain in your tummy even if you’re not hungry at all?Then you might be suffering from peptic ulceres and not know it.
Peptic ulcers are sores in the inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract starting from the esophagus, stomach or duodenum (the first part of the smal intestine). A peptic ulcer of the stomach is called a gastric ulcer; of the duodenum, a duodenal ulcer; and of the esophagus, an esophageal ulcer. Peptic ulcers happen when the lining of these organs is corroded by the acidic digestive (peptic) juices which are secreted by the cells of the stomach.
Contrary to popular belief, alcohol, coffee, colas, spicy foods, and caffeine have no proven role in ulcer formation. Similarly, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that life stresses or personality types contribute to ulcer disease. Spicy food and stress (except when associated with extreme medical conditions) may aggravate ulcer symptoms in some people, but they do not cause ulcers. The direct cause of peptic ulcers is the destruction of the gastric or intestinal mucosal lining of the stomach by hydrochloric acid, thus causing the sores. Hydrochloric acid is normally present in the digestive juices of the stomach.
The truth is, the majority of ulcers are caused either by infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a spiral-shaped bacterium that lives in the acidic environment of the stomach or by use of pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, the so-called nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
How do you know if you have peptic ulcer?
The major symptom of an ulcer is a burning or gnawing feeling in the stomach which can often interpreted as heartburn, indigestion or hunger. Pain is usually caused by the ulcer but it may be aggravated by the stomach acid when it comes into contact with the ulcerated area. The pain caused by peptic ulcers can be felt anywhere from the navel up to the sternum, it may last from few minutes to several hours and it may be worse when the stomach is empty. Also, sometimes the pain may flare at night and it can commonly be temporarily relieved by eating foods that buffer stomach acid or by taking anti-acid medication. However, peptic ulcer disease symptoms may be different for every sufferer.
In some individuals the pain occurs immediately after eating. In other individuals, the pain may not occur until hours after eating. The pain frequently awakens the person at night. Weeks of pain may be followed by weeks of not having pain. Pain can be relieved by drinking milk, eating, resting, or taking antacids.
People with stomach ulcers sometimes lose appetite and therefore lose weight. Persons with duodenal ulcers may experience weight gain because the persons eats more to ease discomfort. Recurrent vomiting, blood in the stool and anemia are also symptoms of a stomach ulcer.
In severe cases, symptoms of ulcer may include dark or black stool (caused by internal bleeding) and vomiting blood (vomit may be grainy and black like “coffee-grounds”).
How are ulcers treated?
The goal of ulcer treatment is to relieve pain, heal the ulcer, and prevent complications. The first step in treatment involves the reduction of risk factors ( less intake of NSAIDs and avoid smoking). The next step is medications such as antacids, H2 blockers, Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), Sucralfate (Carafate) and misoprostol (Cytotec). Some of these medications may cause side effects so it would be best if you consult your doctor first.
Is a Stomach Ulcer Serious?
Many stomach ulcers heal on their own. However, it is important to seek medical attention if you believe you have a stomach ulcer. If not properly treated, stomach ulcers can lead to serious health problems, including:
- Internal bleeding
- A hole through the wall of the stomach
- Gastric outlet obstruction from swelling or scarring that blocks the passageway leading from the stomach to the small intestine.