A stomach ulcer is caused when the lining of the stomach is eroded or damaged. This can lead to abdominal pain and bleeding, and if left untreated it can cause a perforation in the intestines, which can be quite dangerous. You must prevent your condition from becoming severe or returning.
Stomach ulcers may be known as duodenal ulcers or dyspepsia. A peptic ulcer is an ulcer that has formed in the lining of the stomach or the early sections of the small intestine. This may also be known as a gastric ulcer. The gastrointestinal tract contains a lining that protects it from the acid produced by the stomach. When this lining breaks down or stops working correctly, the tissue beneath can become inflamed, resulting in an ulcer. If this becomes severe it can cause a perforation in the intestines, which can be quite dangerous.
Causes of Stomach Ulcer
Stomach ulcers can be caused by a number of conditions:
- H. pylori - The main cause of these ulcers is h. pylori bacteria, a group of bacteria that breaks down the stomach lining, causing inflammation. H. pylori bacteria can be transferred by coming into contact with vomit, sharing utensils or food with an infected part or drinking water that is contaminated.
- Certain medications - Overusing medications such as aspirin ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory medications or NSAIDs to prevent arthritis, stroke or heart attack. It's said that taking NSAIDs can cause two-fifth stomach ulcers.
- Radiation treatments - Stomach ulcers are also a common side effect of radiation treatments affecting the abdomen. Suffering from serious illness that affects the intestinal tract can increase your risk of developing a stomach ulcer.
- Diseases - In rare cases a condition known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can cause duodenal ulcers. A tumor in the pancreas which increases the level of hormones that produce stomach acid can also cause an increase in stomach ulcers. It is rumored that stress increases the risk of developing stomach ulcers, but this is unconfirmed.
- Lifestyle - Smoking, using chewing tobacco or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can cause ulcers to appear.
Symptoms and Possible Complications of Stomach Ulcer
The most common symptom of a stomach ulcer is stomach pain. The level and presence of pain will vary from patient to patient. This pain will predominantly appear in the upper abdomen and may wake you up at night. Sometimes this pain is mistaken as the symptom of a heart attack.
You may also experience mild nausea which is relieved by vomiting, a feeling of fullness, an inability to consume liquids at your usual rate, or a hungry feeling 1-3 hours after having consumed a meal that does not match your usual eating patterns. Other possible symptoms of a stomach ulcer include weight loss, bloody stool, vomiting which may include blood and fatigue.
Stomach ulcers can lead to internal bleeding if they become too severe. The inflammation caused by the stomach ulcer can also lead to inflammation of the tissue lining of the abdomen, a condition known as peritonitis. Inflammation can also lead to a gastric outlet obstruction or perforation of the stomach intestines.
Diagnosis of Stomach Ulcer
Two tests are frequently used to diagnose a stomach ulcer. When given an upper GI, people will be given a barium solution to drink. This will be tracked with a series of X-rays that will allow your doctor to view a stomach ulcer on screen. An esophagogastroduodenoscopy is performed by a gastroenterologist. A small camera protected by a tube will be sent down the GI tract, allowing the doctor to view the stomach and small intestine to check for ulcers.
Treatment and Prevention of Stomach Ulcer
Treatments for stomach ulcers will combine medications that will kill any h. pylori bacteria that are present and reduce the acidity within the stomach. This will give the lining of your stomach a chance to heal and will reduce the chance that it will return.
- Medications and surgery - Medications used to treat h. pylori will combine medications such as amoxicillin, tetracycline, clarithromycin or metronidazole to kill off the bacteria. In addition to these medications, you will be given proton pump inhibitors such as lansoprazole, omeprazole, esomeprazole or bismuth to calm stomach acidity. You may need to adjust the medication you are using to control other medical conditions while you are treating a stomach ulcer to reduce your risk of internal bleeding. You may need to be given an EGD or injection to stop internal bleeding that has become severe. Sever internal bleeding caused by a perforation may need to be addressed with surgery.
- Avoid certain medications - Do not take medications such as aspirin or NSAIDs until you have talked to your doctor. If you have not taken proton pump inhibitors or acid blockers, have been given misoprostol or you have not been checked for h. phlori these medications can worsen your condition. Restrict your pain mediation use to acetaminophen until you have been cleared by your doctor to use other medications.
- Adjust lifestyle - Smoking and alcohol use can worsen a stomach ulcer. If you have developed a stomach ulcer or you are at risk for developing one, avoid smoking or using chewing tobacco. Restrict your alcohol use to two drinks a day or less.
Ulcers which go untreated will frequently return, especially if you are suffering from an h. pylori infection. You will need to follow your doctor's instructions to help prevent future ulcers from developing.
When to See a Doctor
If you have been showing any symptoms of a stomach ulcer, or if you have been feeling light-headed and dizzy, contact your doctor to have an evaluation. If you suddenly develop sharp abdominal pain or a hard, rigid abdomen that tender to the touch, vomiting blood or blood in the stool, or if you have symptoms of shock such as confusion, excessive sweating or fainting, contact emergency medical services right away. These are signs that you may be suffering from a serious or potentially life threatening condition.