A stomach ulcer – which is actually a peptic ulcer – is an open sore that develops on the inside lining of your stomach. Peptic ulcers can actually occur in a number of different locations. In the stomach, a peptic ulcer is known as a gastric ulcer, in the duodenum it is called a duodenal ulcer, and in the esophagus it is a esophageal ulcer.
Stomach ulcers are fairly common, affecting around 4 million Americans a year.
Causes of Stomach Ulcers
There was a time when people used to believe that they could get ulcers from living lives that were too stressful or that an ulcer was caused by something that they were eating. The truth of the matter is that most stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers are caused not by not stress or diet but in fact a bacterial infection or some medications. Esophageal ulcers are normally related to the reflux of stomach acid
Research shows that 80% of gastric ulcers and 90% of duodenal ulcers are caused by infection with a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). H. pylori lives and multiplies within the mucous layer that covers and protects the tissues that line both the stomach and the small intestine.
It is quite often the case that H. pylori exists without causing any problems, however sometimes it can disrupt the mucous layer and inflame the lining of either the stomach or the duodenum, producing an ulcer
Other factors that play a role in the development of ulcers of the stomach and duodenal include smoking, caffeine ingestion, drinking alcohol to excess, emotional stress (which increases the pain of ulcers but does not cause them), and also the regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin.
Stomach Ulcer Symptoms
Some people have a stomach ulcer and not have any symptoms.
Usually when a person has an ulcer they will feel a gnawing or burning sensation in the abdomen between the navel and the breastbone. They will usually find that these sensations happen between meals or in the early hours of the morning. They may feel these sensations for a few minutes or it is possible that the sensations may last for a few hours.
Other symptoms of a peptic ulcer include belching, feeling tired and weak, nausea, loss of weight, and also poor appetite.
The most common complication that is experienced is gastrointestinal bleeding. This happens when the ulcer erodes one of the blood vessels and can be life-threatening.
Another extremely serious complication is perforation, or a hole in the gastro-intestinal wall. When this happens the content of the stomach or intestines spill into the abdominal cavity.
Individuals with these types of ulcers can experience complications that include: bleeding of the ulcer, perforation of the ulcer, a narrowing or obstruction at the end of the stomach, where the duodenum is attached, caused by swelling and scarring from the ulcer.
There are several tests used to make the diagnosis including an upper GI, endoscopy, and blood, breath and stomach tissue tests.
Ulcers can be diagnosed by having an upper GI (gastrointestinal) series, which are x-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. These x-rays are used to help pinpoint where the ulcer is located. The patient is asked to swallow a chalky liquid called barium in order for the ulcer to show up on the x-rays.
Another diagnostic test is called an endoscopy. This is where a small flexible instrument with a camera at the end is inserted through the mouth of the patient and into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum in order for the doctor to view the entire upper GI tract.
Treatment for a peptic ulcer may be a combination of medications and antibiotics and in rare cases,surgery.
Your doctor will determine the correct treatment for you depending upon the size and location of the ulcer. Other factors that will determine your treatment include your age and state of your overall health, your medical history, and your tolerance for medications, procedures and therapies.
You may be advised to make some lifestyle changes including avoiding or limiting any foods that are irritating to your symptoms, and if you smoke you will be advised to stop. Smoking has been shown to delay the healing of ulcers.