Peptic ulcers are no fun to deal with to put it mildly. In fact, they can be a nightmare and quite painful to boot! It is not likely that anyone ever intends to develop a peptic ulcer but nonetheless, millions of people are stricken with them each year. A peptic ulcer is classified by an open wound/sore that is located on the inside lining of your stomach, esophagus or the higher portion of the small intestine. Each of these peptic ulcers is known a little differently. If the ulcer is on the lining of the esophagus, it is called an esophageal ulcer. If the ulcer is located at the highest part of the small intestine, it is referred to as a duodenum ulcer. Finally, if it is located in the stomach it is called a gastric ulcer. The most textbook symptom of a peptic ulcer is pain in the abdomen, usually quite high, near the ribs.
Peptic Ulcer Symptoms
The most common symptoms of a peptic ulcer is a burning sensation like that of heartburn. However, the burning with a peptic ulcer is usually much worse and does not go away as easily as ordinary heartburn. This pain is caused as a result of the harsh stomach acid coming in direct contact with the sore/ulcer. It can be likened to pouring salt on a wound. When this happens the feeling is quite excruciating. This pain can be felt just about anywhere in the stomach from your belly button to the top of the breast bone. Typically the pain from a peptic ulcer is much worse on an empty stomach than it is in a full stomach.
The pain associated with a peptic ulcer could be temporarily soothed by eating specific foods such as yogurt, especially nice cold frozen yogurt. In some cases swallowing tiny ice chips also helps to cool the burning. Antacids can also temporarily relieve the pain, much in the same way as with heartburn. However, this pain will always return as it is actually an open sore within the stomach lining. The pain tends to become more pronounced at night and often wakes the individual in the middle of the night. In some cases, usually not as common, complications such as bleeding that is noted through vomiting or in the stool can occur.
When it is Time to See a Doctor
Obviously, it goes without saying that any sign of blood is reason to see a doctor. However, there may be more subtle signs that you could easily miss or attribute to something else. If you notice a significant and rapid weight loss, this is definitely a cause for concern. If you are in so much pain that it is unbearable and it is debilitating, it’s time to get to a doctor or ER if it is the only option. While a peptic ulcer may not necessarily be an emergency, it can quickly become one. Some people believe that by minimizing stress in their lives they can get rid of ulcers. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. It is not even a fact that stress leads to ulcers, as previously thought. In addition, peptic ulcers can spring up out of nowhere in an otherwise healthy individual. The truth of the matter is doctors are not quite sure what causes them.
Any sudden appetite changes, and of course this goes hand in hand with weight loss, should be reported right away. While some people may not feel like eating at times, a consistent lack of appetite is never a good thing. If this occurs and goes on for longer than a few days it will be a good idea to get a checkup. Also, never assume you can diagnose yourself. This can prove to be a fatal mistake in some cases. All of the symptoms of a peptic ulcer can also point to something else which is much more serious, so never guess what you think may be wrong with you. If you have pain that is not alleviated with antacids and other over the counter medicine then it should be clear something else is going on.
What Causes a Peptic Ulcer?
As stated earlier, the old idea that peptic ulcers were caused by stress has been debunked. Basically what causes an ulcer is an excessive amount of acid flowing through the tubes to the stomach and into the esophagus. This is generally caused by something like acid reflux disease. Ulcers can also be caused by taking too many over the counter drugs such as anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil or aspirin. Drinking large amounts of alcoholic beverages on a daily basis can certainly lead to erosive peptic ulcers and smoking cigarettes is also a major culprit. There is a bit of controversy over whether or not eating extra spicy foods frequently can burn the stomach and cause more stomach acid to be produced but there is no ground breaking evidence to that affect.
It is know that in some cases peptic ulcer treatment antibiotics are used as one cause could be infection with a virus or bacteria. One of the most known causes of infection of the lining in the stomach is a bacterium called H. pylori. This is typically picked up by drinking water that has not been properly sanitized. However, this bacterium can also be transmitted from one person to the next, usually through intimate kissing and other similar activities. The stomach has a mechanism that when healthy produced a fair amount of a certain mucus which aids in proper digestion. When the acid in the stomach is increased, this mucus is sparsely produced, if at all. This is what leads to the onset of an open sore or ulcer.
How Are Ulcers Treated?
Peptic Ulcer treatment is not rocket science. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts but as long as these are followed carefully, the healing process can be rather swift. One of the most important considerations is a peptic ulcer diet. This usually consists of bland foods that are not high in fat. In fact, the lower the fat content, the safer the peptic ulcer diet list menu is. For example, avoid fatty cuts of meat. Do eat meat; just be sure it is lean chicken, turkey or even extra lean ground beef. Avoid things like salty or sweet snacks. In addition, your meals should be very small. It will also be a good idea to try and eat foods that have cooled almost to room temperature at first. This will help avoid the pain that comes from putting something hot on the ulcer itself. While stress is not a known cause of ulcers, it certainly does not hurt to minimize the amount of stress you have in your life. This is true when you are ill with anything. Stress can hinder the healing process and that is a very bad thing where ulcers are concerned.
Doctors will generally start a regimen of medications that are meant to reduce the amount of acid that is present in the stomach. Medications like Prevacid, Pepcid AC, Zantac and other antacids are common treatments. The idea is to minimize the amount of acid so as to help speed up the healing process. In some cases doctors will opt for more aggressive treatment, such as IV antacids in a hospital setting. This really depends on how severe the peptic ulcer has become and whether or not there is any bleeding present. A bleeding ulcer can be very dangerous and should be treated as such. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol will be strictly prohibited during this time. The goal is to keep things nice and calm inside of the stomach in order to promote healing. Most doctors will know an ulcer patient just by speaking with them. However, if there are complications such as blood then some further tests may be required, such as an endoscopy.
Risk of Recurrence
Once you have had a peptic ulcer and have undergone treatment, there is always a chance of a reoccurrence. For this reason, the healthy habits you develop while going through your treatment should be something you consider sticking to even after your pain has gone away. There is a high chance of re-infection if any of the doses of antibiotics are missed during treatment so be sure and finish any and all medications. Studies show that a high percentage of those who have peptic ulcers have relapses if they go back to doing whatever it is they were doing when the ulcer developed. The important thing is to take it easy.
In some cases there is an abnormality to the nerves and muscles which are responsible for properly breaking down food in the body. In these cases there is not a lot that can be done. Smaller meals are a great way to keep the amount of pain you are feeling down. If you allow your stomach to become too full when you have a peptic ulcer then what happens is, the friction of the food against the open sore causes you pain. Sometimes this pain can be unbearable.