Just about everyone has heard the term stomach ulcer. However, most people are unaware of just how common they are. Oftentimes, people tend to take the attitude that an ulcer is something that happens to other people, not them. After all, they don’t drink alcohol to excess; they don’t seem to have a lot of stress, don’t eat a lot of spicy foods, so why should they be worried about a stomach ulcer? This is an erroneous way of thinking. It has been many years since doctors came to the conclusion that ulcers were caused primarily by the above mentioned factors. More recent information tells us that there are a lot of other things that could cause stomach ulcers. Stomach ulcers do not discriminate. In fact, even stomach ulcers in dogs are possible! Of course, that is a discussion we will leave for a whole different article. For now we will focus on stomach ulcers in people.
Bacterial Causes of Stomach Ulcers
Stomach ulcers are just one of the types of ulcers that could develop. There are also ulcers in the duodenum, which is the first portion of the intestine. Additionally, ulcers in the esophagus can occur as well. Most of the time ulcers which develop in the stomach are referred to as gastric or peptic ulcers. The one thing that each of these ulcers have in common is that they are almost always caused by the same factors.
Ulcers can be caused by the same bacterium which is commonly responsible for gastritis, H. pylori. This bacteria is transmitted in a number of ways, either from person to person or through ingestion of unsanitary food or water. This bacterium is found most often in under developed countries but can also be contracted in larger countries such as the UK or the US. Infection occurs mainly in areas that are much more densely populated and have a lower standard of sanitation for their water. It has only been over the past decade or so that doctors have discovered the link between this bacteria and stomach ulcers in children and adults.
Lifestyle Considerations in the Development of Stomach Ulcers
While it is possible to lead a very healthy lifestyle and still develop an ulcer, there are some key culprits that do deserve a mention. People who drink alcohol to excess can develop stomach ulcers as a result of the erosion of the stomach lining caused by the harshness of the constant flow of liquor through the stomach. In addition, cigarette smokers are at a very high risk of developing stomach ulcers. Even stomach ulcers in teenagers have been noted as a result of undesirable habits.
When it comes to stomach ulcers, diet is also a contributing role in some cases. For example, a person who eats nothing but spicy foods can easily develop a stomach ulcer due to literally burning the stomach lining. Of course, this is not to say that all spicy foods should be avoided but it does mean that a little bit of moderation will not hurt. Other foods can aggravate the lining of the stomach as well. If a food is known to cause acid, such as nuts and certain sweet snacks, it is safe to assume that this food might also lead to a stomach ulcer at some point in time. There are also some over the counter medications which can cause stomach ulcers. Aspirin has been known for a long time to carry the risk of stomach ulcers if not taken with care and moderation.
How to Get a Stomach Ulcer Diagnosed
Much of the time a doctor will ask you a series of questions about the symptoms you are experiencing. If he/she determines that what you are describing sounds like an ulcer then he/she may opt to go ahead and begin a course of treatment and see how you do. This is because ulcers tend to heal and feel a lot better within about a week or two of being treated. If your symptoms start to subside and you are doing better after the treatment has been underway for a few days to a week then there may not be a reason for testing. However, if there is blood present when vomiting or in the stool then chances are your physician will want to order some tests. In some cases the doctor may scrape a small bit of the stomach lining; this is called performing a biopsy, in order to note whether or not the presence of H. pylori exists.
What Does a Stomach Ulcer Feel Like?
Different types of ulcers have varying symptoms. For example, a duodenal ulcer tends to hurt worse on an empty stomach. This means that you may find relief after eating but then experience pain again within a couple of hours. With a stomach ulcer the pain is typically most prevalent just after meals. This is especially true if the food ingested is spicy or irritating. Many times stomach ulcers also feel a lot worse when specific liquids are consumed. Soda, for example will burn going down when there is a stomach ulcer.
When you have an ulcer the pain will be quite severe at times. If you experience pain that is so severe that it awakens you in the middle of the night, this is a very good indication that a stomach ulcer is present. Vomiting and sudden weight loss are other signs that point to a stomach ulcer. Some people with stomach ulcers report that food hurts going down and that there is a burning sensation they cannot seem to get rid off after taking in meals. In other cases excessive burping may be present. This is especially true if the ulcer has caused a perforation near the esophagus, thereby allowing air to get into the stomach. All in all a stomach ulcer can be described as a feeling of heartburn that never really goes away. Most people with stomach ulcers know that there is something wrong. That is, it is quite hard to ignore the symptoms of a stomach ulcer.
Stomach Ulcer Treatment
Once it has been determined that there is a stomach ulcer present, a treated plan will be addressed rather quickly. If the ulcer is at a stage in which it could be considered mild to moderate then the doctor will probably begin by prescribing antacids and possible an antibiotic, if the presence of H pylori has been detected. However, for more severe stomach ulcers in which a perforation has caused other complications such as internal bleeding, hospitalization and intravenous antacids are usually par for the course. Treatment for stomach ulcers and pregnancy will be a lot different as there are some things pregnant women cannot take. If a pregnant woman develops an ulcer then her doctor will use a totally different treatment plan with her. Most of the time the goal will be to keep the ulcer at bay and from getting worse until after the baby has been born.
Most of the time stomach ulcers can be treated quite easily and it is rare that a complication arises. However, in people who have immunological disorders there is always the chance of secondary infection. Stomach ulcers are much more dangerous to people who have illnesses such as sickle cell anemia, HIV, Parkinson’s disease and a number of other illnesses that may affect the body’s ability to ward off infections. A stomach ulcer in itself is not necessarily a big deal but the infection that could ensue in one of the above mentioned people could become very serious. Of course, anyone with a stomach ulcer, whether they are healthy or not will also be placed on a very restrictive diet. Smoking, caffeine, alcohol and most over the counter medications will be prohibited during the treatment period and perhaps long term as well.
Anyone who is being treated for a stomach ulcer will probably be given a list of things to watch out for. As with anything else, a stomach ulcer could become worse if the treatment is ineffective. This could happen as a result of a mis diagnosis of the cause of the ulcer or because of a poor immune system. In any case, if you notice at anytime while being treated for an ulcer that you should begin to vomit food you have eaten several hours or even days before then this is not a good sign. This may indicate that your food is being trapped in your ulcer which could lead to a secondary infection. If you should vomit blood seek immediate medical attention. There should be no fever present and if one develops notify your physician right away. In addition, should you begin to feel weak, dizzy, clammy or cold, you could be experiencing complications. At no time is blood in your stool acceptable and should be reported at once. Unexplained weight loss could also be considered a red flag.