Stomach ulcers
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Stomach ulcers, also known as peptic ulcers, were once thought to be caused by stress and spicy foods. These ulcers are open sores that develop on the inside of the stomach lining. Peptic ulcers are no longer thought to be caused by stress, although stress can still be a contributing factor. Stomach ulcers are quite common and can usually be cleared up within just a few weeks of diagnosis.


Patients developing stomach ulcers may develop symptoms such as pain. Pain is the most common symptom of a stomach ulcer. Pain can be anywhere from the patient’s naval to the breastbone, may last for hours or may be short in duration, be worse when the stomach is empty, flare up mostly at night or after the sun sets, be able to be temporarily relieved by eating specific foods, and may last for a few days and then disappear or may last for weeks on end. Sometimes serious symptoms such as the vomiting of bloody and mucous laden vomit, dark and bloody stools, black and tarry stools, chest pain, and unexplained weight loss can be contributed to a stomach ulcer.


While the theory that stress and dietary issues were once a major cause of stomach ulcers, new research shows that a specific bacterium known as helicobacter pylori is the cause of almost all stomach ulcers. Stress and diet can play a role in the severity of an ulcer, but are no longer considered a cause.
Stomach ulcer
Image: Stomach ulcer

The bacterium associated with stomach ulcers is considered quite common. In the United States, one out of every five individuals under the age of 30 is most likely infected with the bacterium while about one half of all people in the U.S. under the age of 60 is likely to have helicobacter pylori.


When diagnosing a peptic ulcer, patient complaints in combination with test results from an upper GI tract x-ray or an endoscopy can determine the presence of ulcers. In many cases, physicians should take a biopsy of the tissue surrounding an ulcer to rule out the possibility of cancer. Additionally, repeating the biopsy after a few months of treatment can confirm progress in treatment.


Tests to determine the presence of the bacterium helicobacter pylori can also be an effective diagnostic process. The breath test requires the patient to blow into a bag which is then sealed. The patient then drinks a small amount of radioactive liquid and in half an hour, blows into another sealed bag. The presence of the bacterium can be determined if the second breath sample contains a high level of carbon dioxide.

Not all stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria, although most have been proven to have a bacterial base. In some cases, the chronic use of NSAID pain relievers have been know the lead to stomach ulcers as well.
Digestive system disease
Image: Digestive system, stomach disease


Peptic ulcers can lead to serious complications if not treated. Patients may develop internal bleeding, or the ulcer can eat a hole right through the wall of the either the stomach or the small intestine. Without treatment, these can become life threatening. The development of scar tissue can also constrict food’s ability to pass through the digestive tract.


The first goal of treating a stomach ulcer is to kill the bacteria. Usually antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial based infections. This particular bacterium requires a combination of medications in order to effectively kill the bacteria. Once the bacteria is under control acid blockers, proton pump inhibitors, and cytoprotective agents can be used to heal the ulcer and to protect the surrounding tissue during the time which it takes for the ulcer to heal.

Ulcers that fail to heal may be the result of a primary health condition that has not yet been determined or the result of excessive amounts of stomach acid that is very difficult to control.


Patients who are dealing with a stomach ulcer should avoid smoking cigarettes, as this may cause an interference with the lining of the stomach’s ability to be protective. Drinking alcohol and the use of NSAID pain relievers are only likely to aggravate a stomach ulcer and should be avoided. Taking additional steps to help control the stomach acid, such as dietary restrictions, can go a long way in encouraging a stomach ulcer to heal.
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