Ulcers located in the stomach (gastric ulcers) and ulcers in the first section of the small intestine (duodenal ulcers), are grouped under the label “peptic ulcers”. They afflict men, women and children. No one knows exactly what causes ulcers, but doctors think they’re a combination of excess stomach acid and failure of the stomach’s inner lining to protect it from the acid. Also, bacteria called Heliobacter pylori may help cause some ulcers. Tests can be done by your doctor to find out if you have this bacteria by doing a blood test, breath test and a biopsy of stomach tissue during an endoscopy, a procedure that looks at your stomach through a tube that is inserted via your mouth. If Heliobacter pylori bacteria are present, antibiotics should be prescribed. One study has shown that treating ulcers of this type protected nearly 90% of those affected from future ulcer attacks. Another showed that only 15% of persons with Heliobacter pylori treated ulcers had recurrent ulcers after two years if treated with antibiotics. Persons with a family history of ulcers tend to be at greater risk for developing an ulcer as do persons with type O blood. Eighty to 90 percent of the time, peptic ulcers recur within two years of the initial attack. Certain things increase the risk of peptic ulcers in susceptible individuals:
- Stress and anxiety.
- Irregular meal times and improper diet or skipping meals.
- Excess alcohol intake; taking medicine such as aspirin; and the use of caffeine. All of these irritate the stomach.
Signs and Symptoms
Peptic ulcers are characterized by:
- A gnawing or burning just above the navel within 1-1/2 to 3 hours after eating.
- Pain that frequently awakens the person at night.
- Relief of the pain within minutes with food or antacids.
- Pain that recurs, with each cluster of attacks lasting from several days to several months.
- Pain that feels like indigestion, heartburn, or hunger.
- Unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite.
Treatment and Care
Doctors can diagnose gastric and duodenal ulcers on the basis of X-rays or endoscopy.
Notify your doctor if:
- Your stools are ever bloody, black or tarry looking. (Take a specimen to your doctor’s office).
- You vomit blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.
- You become unusually pale and weak.
- You have diarrhea with intolerable pain.
- You have very severe abdominal pain.
For treatment, your doctor may prescribe:
- Over-the-counter antacids.
- Antibiotics and bismuth (Pepto-Bismol) if he/she thinks that Heliobacter pylori bacteria is contributing to your ulcer. [Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates such as Pepto-Bismol to anyone 19 years of age or younger, unless directed by a physician due to its association with Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.]
- Medicines to decrease or stop the stomach’s production of hydrochloric acid.
- Smokers, because tobacco smoke paralyzes the tiny hairs that otherwise help to expel germ-ridden mucus from the lungs.
- People who suffer from malnutrition, alcoholism, or viral infections.
- Anyone with a recent respiratory viral infection.
- People with emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
- People with sickle cell anemia.
- Cancer patients undergoing radiation treatments or chemotherapy, both of which wear down the immune system.
- People with AIDS – HIV (acquired immune deficiency syndrome-human immune deficiency virus).
Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism
© American Institute for Preventive Medicine