Peptic ulcers are the open lesions that develop on the lining of the stomach and the upper section of the small intestine. Stomach pain is the most common symptom of peptic ulcer. The disease includes:
- Duodenal ulcers: It occurs on the inside of the upper section of the duodenum/intestine.
- Gastric ulcers: Occurs on the inside of the stomach
Peptic ulcers are often caused by bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and extensive use of aspirin alongside anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as Aleve and Advil among others. It is important to note that stress and spicy foods do not cause peptic ulcers; they are only activators/catalysts once a person has ulcers. At the same time, peptic ulcers can be caused, although rarely, by cancerous and noncancerous tumors in the duodenum, stomach, or pancreas called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (ZES).
- Burning stomach pain
- Fatty food intolerance
- Feeling of bloating, fullness or belching
- Poor appetite
The most common symptom is burning stomach pain which a person feels between the belly button and breastbone.
Less common symptoms that indicate severe peptic ulcers include:
- Feeling faint
- Dark blood in stools or stools that is tarry and black
- Vomiting or nausea
- Vomiting blood
- Appetite changes
- Unexplained weight loss
See the doctor immediately you experience severe signs and symptoms mentioned above. At the same time, see the doctor if the over-the-counter acid blockers and antacids relieve your pain, but it returns quickly.
Other than taking NSAIDs, a person is at increased risk of developing peptic ulcers if he/she:
- Smokes: Smoking may increase the risk of ulcers in individuals infected with H. pylori
- Drink alcohol: Alcohol may erode and irritate the mucous lining of the stomach and lead to increased stomach acid that may worsen peptic ulcers
- Have untreated stress
- Eat spicy foods
It is important to note that these factors CANNOT cause ulcers by themselves. They only worsen ulcers and make healing more difficult. Therefore, if you have ulcers, avoid them altogether.
The complications associated with peptic ulcers include internal bleeding, infection of the abdominal cavity (peritonitis), and obstruction of food passage in the digestive tract.
The doctor will ask you some questions about the symptoms you are experiencing, whether you take NSAIDs and other drugs or not, and your medical history. The doctor will also check for bloating in the stomach and pain. That may be sufficient to make a diagnosis.
However, if not certain, the doctor may request a series of X-rays or a test known as endoscopy. It allows the doctor to pass a thin, bendy tube down a person’s throat and into the stomach and small intestine. The tube is fitted with a camera that can show him/her the lining of the stomach and substantiate whether ulcers exist or not.
The doctor may equally take a tiny piece of the lining and test for H. pylori
Other tests for peptic ulcers include breath, blood, and stool sample tests.
The doctor would use antibiotics to treat you if the ulcers were caused by an H. pylori infection. Antibiotics kill the bacteria and prevent the infection from coming back.
The doctor will use a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) if your ulcers are a result of NSAIDs. The doctor will prescribe PPI and discuss whether to continue using NSAIDs or not. He or she may recommend alternative medications to NSAIDs such as paracetamol.
Note that after treatment, most stomach ulcers take a few months to heal. Nevertheless, stomach ulcers can come back after treatment even though this is less likely to take place if the primary cause of the ulcer infection is addressed.
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