You’ve probably heard someone say, at least once in your life, “Quit worrying; you’ll get an ulcer.” I see a lot of patients who suffer from some form of stomach distress and ulcers are more common than you might think. Let’s talk about peptic ulcers and what you might be able to do to prevent them.
Two Primary Causes
For years we weren’t really sure what the root causes of ulcers were and everything from stress and anxiety to spicy foods to alcohol were suspected as potential culprits. As it turns out, most ulcers are caused by one of two things:
- H. pylori – H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori) is a bacteria that disrupts the mucous layer lining the intestines. When this mucous layer is disrupted, it allows certain enzymes and other toxins to hurt the cells of the stomach, in turn causing sores. These sores leave the tissue open to more damage and eventually turn into ulcers.
- Medications – More specifically, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen and aspirin. These medications are used to ward off inflammation by inhibiting specific fatty acid compounds in your body. Unfortunately, some of these fatty acid compounds play a big role in protecting the stomach lining from stomach acid. Taking NSAIDS for a long period of time can mean that your stomach is unprotected from your stomach acids and this can lead to ulcers.
Although anyone can get an ulcer, the risk of ulcers increases slightly with age and peaks between ages 55 and 65.
Untreated Ulcers Pose Health Danger
Ulcers can be painful and if left untreated, dangerous. Here are the most common symptoms associated with ulcers:
- Burning stomach pain
- A feeling of being uncomfortably full or bloated
- Intolerance to fatty food
- Excessive heartburn
If you’re noticing these symptoms, contact your doctor so they can check your stomach. More severe symptoms include:
- Vomiting blood
- Having blood in your stools
- Experiencing difficulty breathing
- Serious nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Noticeable changes in appetite
- Feeling faint
If you’re having the above symptoms, get to your doctor right away. An ulcer left untreated can result in penetration or perforation of the wall of your stomach, bleeding and obstruction. Research also shows that people who suffer from untreated ulcers caused by H. pylori have a greater risk of developing stomach cancer later in life.
If the cause of your ulcer is H. pylori, research shows there is a very good chance that taking a complete round of antibiotics for one to two weeks along with a stomach-acid reducer could cure you of your ulcer.
If your ulcer is NSAID related, all NSAIDS will have to be stopped immediately, and there is a possibility that the ulcer can be treated with medication. If the ulcer is severe, or if there is already a perforation, surgery might be necessary. In rare cases, some ulcers go away without treatment, but these ulcers tend to be recurring. If you’re experiencing any pain that might be ulcer-related, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as you can.