A peptic ulcer develops when the lining and tissue of the digestive system has been worn away or corroded by an excess of stomach acids and gastric juices. The mucous membrane lining wears down and this creates an erosion or hole in the lining or tissue that can cause considerable pain no matter what the size may be. Peptic ulcers can be formed in the stomach (gastric ulcers), duodenum or upper part of the small intestine (duodenal ulcers) or the esophagus (esophageal ulcer). One in ten people suffer from peptic ulcers in the country today and more worryingly almost 6,000 people die from complications that arise due to peptic ulcers. The cost of medications and treatments towards ulcers runs into billions of dollars every year.
Peptic ulcers should therefore be treated very seriously. Better awareness and obtaining medical attention promptly can help to control the condition effectively, significantly reducing the risk of complications or fatalities. Fortunately research and medical technology has led to a better understanding of why these types of ulcers occur and this has resulted in more effective methods to treat and cure peptic ulcers.
Symptoms of Peptic Ulcers
Peptic ulcer symptoms can run the gamut from mild discomfort to acute abdominal pain. Most bouts of pain occur a few hours after eating, or during the middle of the night when sleeping. Indigestion, acidity, and even hunger pangs are associated with the symptoms of peptic ulcers. Depending on the severity of the erosion or the size of the ulcer, patients may complain of chronic or sporadic episodes of pain and discomfort. Even after treating an ulcer, there is a tendency for the symptoms to reappear. In some cases, patients may not even be aware of the existence of an ulcer and experience no pain at all. Ulcers also tend to appear and disappear on their own accord and many times and patients may have periods of pain interspersed with periods of normalcy. In severe cases, bleeding and perforation of the ulcer may occur and may require immediate medical attention. General symptoms indicating the existence of a peptic ulcer include:
- Pain in the upper part of the stomach that can extend to the back
- Pain that lasts for a few minutes or a few hours
- Pain is reduced with antacids, vomiting or even eating
- Heartburn and acidity
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vomiting of blood
- Stools that are dark or black in color
- Stomach pain that is aggravated when the patient is hungry or sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Constant feeling of fullness
- Chest pain
Severe ulcers can cause bleeding which manifests itself in the form of vomiting of blood or blood in the stools. If either of these symptoms are observed, get yourself to an emergency room immediately as you require immediate medical attention. In some cases, ulcers could lead to slow bleeding that is detected with symptoms such as fatigue, anemia, lethargy, tiredness and a pale pallor, resulting from the gradual but steady loss of blood.
If you suspect that you have an ulcer, consult with your doctor who will recommend either a barium upper GI x-ray or an EGD or an upper endoscopy. A blood test to check for anemia and a stool test may be necessary as well. In the worst-case scenario, a biopsy may be required to rule out the possibility of cancer.
Causes of Peptic Ulcers
The cause of peptic ulcers has always been attributed to an excessive buildup of stomach acids. For years now, the treatment of ulcers was based on this theory and while too much gastric acid is still a contributing factor, recent research shows other factors that may cause peptic ulcers as well.
- For one, it has been discovered that a bacteria called Helicobacter pyloricus is responsible for the development of peptic ulcer disease. This is a common bacterium that infects over a billion people all over the work. Infections can turn chronic and lead to ulcerative disease in nearly 15% of those infected. Just how exactly this bacteria causes ulcers is still not clearly understood, but the successful treatment of ulcers with antibiotics proves that ulcers are in many cases caused by a bacterial infection.
- Another cause of peptic ulcers is the overuse of NSAIDS or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and etodolac. These drugs are used to treat inflammations in the body and conditions such as arthritis. Some of these drugs can cause erosions in the stomach linings and lead to ulcer formation by preventing the prostaglandins in the stomach lining from resisting corrosion and acids.
- Smoking tobacco is also associated with ulcer formation and it is also one of the biggest impediments to recovery in smokers. Smoking or chewing tobacco can also lead to complications as a result of ulcers, such as bleeding and perforations. Stomach obstructions are also often traced back to excessive smoking.
- Radiation treatments and severe illnesses can lead to the formation of peptic ulcers as well.
- While many people believe that spicy foods, carbonated drinks and alcohol increase the chances of ulcer formation, there is no evidence to prove the same.
- Similarly, the theory that stress and certain personality types can cause ulcers is also untrue.
Remedies for Peptic Ulcers
Before you decide to try out any home remedies for peptic ulcers, do keep in mind that most home remedies are classified as alternative medicine as they have not been tested and their results are unverified. While some home remedies for stomach ulcers can help, either by facilitating recovery or providing relief from the symptoms, it should be pointed out that the results can vary greatly. Most remedies for ulcers in the stomach are based on balancing out the levels of gastric acids. While this will help with recovery it does not address the problem, particularly when the cause is bacterial infection. Make it a point to seek medical treatment and home remedies and home treatments can be used as complimentary treatments:
- Traditional ulcer cures recommend that people suffering from ulcers should stop smoking and try and avoid alcohol and too much coffee as these can increase the chances of ulcer formation, as well as slow down the healing process.
- NSAIDS such as aspirin should be avoided if one is prone to ulcers. Consult with your doctor about other safer alternatives. In case the ulcer has been caused by overuse of NSAIDS, you may need to use a proton pump inhibitor for up to eight weeks.
- Over-the-counter antacid tablets may offer some relief, but in severe cases, stronger medications may be necessary.
- Home remedies for peptic ulcers dictate that food should be eaten in small portions at regular intervals during the day to prevent acids from building up and eroding the stomach lining.
- Eating organic food, avoiding dairy products, spicy and over-processed foods can help ease the pressure on the digestive system and aid healing.
- Home remedies for stomach ulcers include drinking freshly made cabbage juice. Cabbage juice is said to cure ulcers in no time but at least one quart of this juice has to be drunk over a day to see the best results. Bananas are also used to treat peptic ulcers, as they possess a compound that balances out and neutralizes stomach acids and coats the lining of the stomach preventing ulcers from forming. You can have a banana or two with a glass of milk at least three or four times a day for speedy relief.
- Vitamin A and vitamin E supplements taken daily can also heal the lining of the stomach and prevent ulcers from forming.
Diet for Peptic Ulcers
Patients suffering from peptic ulcers should change their diet to reduce excessive secretions of acids in the stomach, prevent irritation to the stomach lining and provide some rest to the digestive system so that it can heal properly. To this effect, an ideal diet for peptic ulcers should include:
- A high protein intake is needed to build healthy tissue and aid the healing process. However proteins should be consumed in non-meat forms as meat can have a stimulating effect on the digestive system and this needs to be avoided. For the same reasons, dairy products should be avoided as their high calcium content results in an increase in the production of digestive juices and acids.
- A bland diet is recommended for people suffering from peptic ulcers. Avoid spicy, oily and fatty foods as these may cause irritation and also increase the stress on your digestive system.
- Foods like apples, cranberries, onions and garlic that are rich in flavonoids may help restrict the growth of the bacteria.
Suggestion for Peptic Ulcers
Here are some tips and suggestions that could help in the treatment of peptic ulcers:
- Alcohol abuse and smoking can severely aggravate peptic ulcers, delay healing, contribute to the development of the problem itself, and even cause complications. If you have an alcohol problem please seek help and it is also imperative that you quit smoking.
- Cut back on your intake of caffeinated and carbonated drinks as they greatly increase acidity.
- Stress reduction through relaxation techniques and exercise disciplines like yoga can also help reduce the severity of symptoms and more importantly reduce your dependence on other medications like NSAIDs.
- Wadie I. Najm, Peptic Ulcer Disease, Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice, Volume 38, Issue 3, September 2011, Pages 383-394, ISSN 0095-4543, 10.1016/j.pop.2011.05.001.
- Duncan J Stewart, Roger Ackroyd, Peptic ulcers and their complications, Surgery (Oxford), Volume 29, Issue 11, November 2011, Pages 568-574, ISSN 0263-9319, 10.1016/j.mpsur.2011.08.006.
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