That burning pain in the middle of the chest. Sometimes, it burns up into her throat; causing very bad discomfort at the top of her tummy as well. Dela has been getting them more and more. They feel worse after eating. And now, the usual antacid tablets she takes do not work. At home, she walks slowly up the stairs feeling ill and very bloated. Suddenly she retches. And bends over forcefully as she starts to vomit - a large amount of bright red blood came pouring out of her mouth. The last thing she remembered as she fell down the stairs was how the bright light at the top of the steps kept fading...
You may be worried about Dela's experience and wondering how to cure stomach ulcers. In the section 'Best Remedies for Stomach Ulcers' below, we cover the best medical treatments currently available. And if you want to learn more about stomach ulcers in general then check out all the other sections, too:
Whats On This Page
What is an Ulcer?
One of the most common types of ulcers most people know is the stomach ulcer; though there are other types such as ulcers in the skin or other parts of the body.
But what does an ulcer mean?
We mostly use the word to describe damage to the lining of tissues in the body including the skin.
You could liken it to an erosion of the affected tissue or skin - and ulcers can happen anywhere inside the body or outside.
How Do Ulcers Happen?
Many things can cause damage to the skin or tissue barrier.
A cut or tear of the skin or tissue can happen quickly but an ulcer can take longer to develop.
When the parts holding the tissues together break down, the ulcer begins to form.
But just as ulcers can develop in different parts of the body, they may do so for different reasons.
Many factors like lack of oxygen supply to a part of the body, or the effect of acid on vulnerable cells could allow an ulcer to form.
A stomach (gastric) ulcer is a type of ulcer that happens in the gastrointestinal system.
It is located in the lower part of the stomach.
Another, even more frequently occurring type of gastrointestinal ulcer is the duodenal ulcer.
This type is located in the duodenum.
The duodenum is the first part of the intestine which runs out of the stomach.
The ulcers in the gastrointestinal system usually happen because of the effect of gastric acid on tissues inside the stomach or other sections.
You may also hear these referred to as peptic ulcers.
So, the term peptic ulcer refers to both duodenal and stomach (gastric) ulcers.
Normally gastric juices are produced in the stomach.
They contain an important component called hydrochloric acid which is required for digestion of food in the stomach.
Hydrochloric acid will usually not damage the tissues of the stomach or intestines.
But sometimes as a result of certain changes from stress or drugs, the hydrochloric acid can 'burn' the tissues and lead to an ulcer.
Another type of gastrointestinal ulcer develops in the food pipe or gullet, known as an oesophageal ulcer.
On the other hand, a skin ulcer can develop anywhere on the skin.
There may be different causes for the break in the skin tissues leading to an ulcer.
- cancer such as 'rodent ulcer'; a type of skin cancer
- skin irritation from chemical substances or
- poor/bad circulation (varicose ulcers)
Apart from these, poor skin care could increase the risk of ulcers from dry, irritated skin.
Read more here about caring for your skin.
Some Causes of Gastrointestinal Ulcers
So now we know that hydrochloric acid is chiefly associated with creating gastrointestinal ulcers, here are some scenarios where problems with acid are most likely to happen:
- Drugs like anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen or Aspirin) can weaken the lining of the stomach increasing susceptibility to acid and for ulcers developing.
- Certain types of diet can lead to excess weight gain and increase the amount of gastric acid produced by the stomach giving rise to the symptoms of peptic ulcer.
- Chronic stress could increase stomach acid levels making it more likely to develop an ulcer
- Smoking is known to increase stomach acid production which contributes to the development of ulcers - duodenal ulcers in particular.
- Infections within the gastrointestinal tract from a germ called Helicobacter pylori.
- Learn about Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori):
- This a bacterial germ that we now link closely with Peptic ulcer disease
- We think that more than 50% of the world's population has the H.pylori infection.
- What is even more interesting is that not everyone with the germ gets a peptic ulcer.
- However, among those with peptic ulcers who do have the germ, eradication of H.pylori contributes a lot to relieving the symptoms.
- It appears to be more common with Duodenal than gastric ulcers.
Who gets Stomach Ulcers?
Well, given the right conditions, nearly anyone can have
However, certain factors make one person a lot more likely than another to develop an ulcer.
Looking at some of the causes above, you may already know certain groups of people who may be more at risk:
- Older people appear more at risk than children and younger people to develop a stomach ulcer
- People who smoke cigarettes do have an increased risk
- Being overweight and unhealthy food choices is a risk factor
- We know infection with H.pylori can cause ulcer symptoms. But who is likely to have the germ?
- Well, if you are in lower socio-economic bracket or live in unsanitary over-crowded conditions, you may be more likely to develop H.pylori
- Studies now show us that H. pylori is more prevalent in lower-middle-income countries.
- It also seems more likely to happen in older people.
So this is not an exhaustive list.
But if you have ulcer symptoms, your doctor will be looking at what factors in your life have led you to develop the ulcer.
Symptoms of Stomach Ulcer
People with stomach (gastric) ulcer may have one or more of the following:
- Having a pain in the upper tummy (abdomen) is the principal symptom for a gastric ulcer. The pain usually comes and goes initially; and may even wake you from sleep.
- Other symptoms may include:
- A sensation of bloating.
- This means your tummy swells because your stomach is full of gas or air.
- This is when you feel as though you're about to vomit (be sick) but not actually vomiting.
- Feeling sick (nausea).
- Feeling very 'full' after a meal.
- A sensation of bloating.
As you know, a duodenal ulcer is more common, but some symptoms are similar.
We usually can detect the difference by having a test called endoscopy (see below).
Duodenal Ulcer Symptoms are very similar to that of a gastric ulcer.
However, tummy pain from a duodenal ulcer generally occurs before meals and seems to get better after eating.
How to Diagnose Stomach Ulcers
- We already know that the bacterium, H.pylori is important in stomach ulcers developing.
- Thus one of the tests we do detects the H. pylori germ (bacterium) usually from faeces (stool test), blood test or your breath.
- We can also detect it in biopsy tissue samples taken from the stomach or duodenum during a special test called a gastroscopy.
- An endoscopy is a test that looks inside an organ. We call this a gastroscopy when the organ is the stomach.
- During a gastroscopy, your doctor takes a look inside your stomach by passing a thin, flexible telescope attached to a camera through your mouth and down your gullet. (image above on left).
- This allows your doctor to see any abnormalities in the appearance of the tissues in the stomach (as you can see in the image pictured above on the right).
- It is also known as a 'camera' test.
- Biopsies are another method to examine abnormal changes inside an organ.
- In the case of stomach ulcer, a biopsy is a small sample of tissue, collected from the stomach during a test like a gastroscopy.
- A specialist doctor (histopathologist) examines the tissue sample under the microscope
- By examining the appearance of the tissue under the microscope, they can identify the cause of the ulcer such as cancer.
- It is important to recognise that some stomach ulcers are caused by cancer and so, treat them all carefully to know which is which.
- In the majority of cases, though, stomach ulcers are not cancerous.
Best Ulcer Remedies
As we see, there are several factors to developing stomach (and other gastrointestinal) ulcers.
Treatments that are successful will, therefore, focus on reversing the causes where possible.
It is often the case that you will need more than one focus to treat your condition effectively, but here are the solutions below:
1. Lifestyle Changes
It is important to address certain aspects of behaviour that can lead to stomach ulcers.
This may not apply to everyone, but many people who suffer with stomach ulcers will have an aspect of their lifestyle that they could change to improve their symptoms:
- Stop Smoking - we know that smoking increases stomach acid production.
- If you smoke and suffer from stomach ulcers, it's a good idea to stop, to allow the ulcer to heal and prevent its recurrence.
- Maintain a healthy weight - from a combination of exercise and addressing the quality and quantity of food consumed.
- Exercise not only helps weight loss but helps with digestion of food within your stomach and intestines.
- This could reduce the collection of gas in the stomach and intestines and help with symptom relief.
- People who do not exercise may be more likely to suffer from constipation which also encourages gas build-up.
- In addition, healthier food choices that minimise processed foods or foods high in saturated fats help with ulcer symptoms.
- Examples of these foods are snacks like crisps, meat pies, cakes, deep-fried foods; drinks high in sugar content also fall into this category.
- Other 'trigger foods' you should avoid include coffee, chocolate, tomatoes or beans - check here for more examples.
- And remember portion control - eating smaller meals rather than large meals helps to control symptoms like nausea and help with healing the ulcer.
- Sleeping Habits - Avoid eating meals 3-4 hours before you lie down to sleep.
- This reduces the quantity of gastric acid that can irritate the tissues.
- During sleep, the muscular valve which usually closes off the food pipe from the stomach relaxes.
- This could allow acid to pass up from the stomach into the food pipe causing a burning pain in the chest that wakes you from sleep.
- Alcohol intake - Alcohol can irritate the lining or the inner walls of the gullet, stomach and intestines leading to ulcers.
- Cutting down on alcohol intake does reduce symptoms while the ulcer heals.
2. Eradicating H.pylori Infection
We have shown how an infection with H.pylori is linked with many peptic ulcers.
One of the important solutions for stomach ulcers is testing for this germ, and treatment if the test is positive.
To eradicate the germ, we use a combination of antibiotics with acid-suppressing medicine.
In addition, some studies suggest that probiotics (and lactobacilli) reduce the activity of H. pylori.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts promoted as having various health benefits.
They're usually added to yoghurts or taken as food supplements, and are often described as "good" or "friendly" bacteria.
Probiotics are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut (including your stomach and intestines) when it's been disrupted by an illness or treatment.
One study reports that the use of probiotics before and during eradication treatment for H.pylori improved effects of the treatment.
The best results seemed to come after using the probiotic treatment for more than two weeks.
3. Medicines for treating excess stomach acid
Fortunately, a number of medicines are able to prevent the harmful effects of stomach acid, allowing the ulcer to heal and stop nasty symptoms.
There are three main categories for treating abnormal acid production:
- PPI - also known as Proton Pump Inhibitors are very effective in reducing the acid in your stomach making them of great value in treating peptic ulcers as well as acid reflux symptoms.
- H2 Blockers - are drugs which reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces.
- They are effective in treating some cases of acid reflux and stomach ulcers
- Antacids - these drugs contain aluminium or magnesium combined with alginates.
- They work by both reducing the acidity in the stomach and creating a protective layer that floats on the top of your stomach contents.
- This layer helps to prevent acid from running up into your gullet (food pipe or oesophagus).
- Therefore, they are more effective in treating indigestion (heartburn) symptoms from acid reflux and oesophagitis (irritation of the food pipe).
- They are commonly sold over the counter, but while they may help early or mild symptoms of excess acid, they cannot treat stomach ulcers.
4. Avoid Medicine Triggers
One of the medicines you are taking regularly could be responsible for your stomach ulcer.
Most commonly the list of such drugs includes Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as low-dose Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen and several others.
Some other drugs on the list include:
- Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs),
- Treatments for osteoporosis like Alendronate and Risedronate,
- Some types of chemotherapy,
- Recreational drugs like Indian Hemp, Cocaine or Heroin
It's easy to overlook, but by simply going through your drug cabinet, you could minimise some symptoms.
These days, the best treatments for stomach ulcers are a combination of eradicating H.pylori infections and very effective acid suppression medicines.
Surgery will be considered if there is a complication or the ulcer is not responding to the non-surgical treatments.
Another reason for surgery is when the cause of the ulcer is stomach cancer.
You should not avoid or delay treating a stomach ulcer.
Common complications are bleeding from the ulcer when it grows deep enough to damage the blood vessels nearby.
- Bleeding could be small amounts or a heavy, life-threatening bleed.
- The latter could happen with very serious consequences like the loss of life.
- Internal bleeding that is less heavy may cause you to vomit material that looks dark brown or black (like coffee grounds) because the stomach acid breaks down the blood.
- On the other hand, blood from the stomach ulcer may trickle down into the bowels, mixing with the stool (faeces) and making it look very dark or black.
- Most importantly, any of these cases - vomiting fresh red blood, coffee-coloured vomits or dark/black stools are extremely serious and you must seek urgent medical attention if they happen.
Another complication is perforation where the ulcer grows all the way through the wall of the stomach making food and acid leak out of the stomach.
Consequently, this will cause severe stomach pain and illness - it is a medical emergency and requires urgent medical attention.
Very rarely, depending on the location of the ulcer in the stomach, a blockage in the gastric tracts results.
This is the case when the ulcer is near the end of the stomach.
Damage to the tissues near the ulcer makes the exit from the stomach into the first part of the small intestine become so narrow, there is obstruction of normal flow of food.
There will be frequent vomiting in addition to pain, weight loss and other symptoms.
So as you see, stomach ulcers have the potential to cause extremely serious illness.
If you suspect your symptoms are from a stomach ulcer, you should get help from your doctor.
What's been your experience with stomach ulcers?
Have you found this article helpful? Let us know in the comments.
Till next time, stay well.
Editing by AskAwayHealth Team
All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
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