Stomach ulcers are very common. While many people experience painful symptoms, some do not. This is a problem, because if left untreated, a stomach ulcer can cause significant problems. Therefore, it’s important to learn to detect the signs of a potential stomach ulcer in your body.
Fortunately, stomach ulcers can be easily treated by your doctor once you find out you have one. This blog will help you understand the types of stomach ulcers, what causes them, and what treatments are available today.
What Are Stomach Ulcers?
Stomach ulcers, also called peptic ulcers, are open sores that can develop in the inside lining of your stomach. They can also form on the upper section of your small intestine.
Peptic ulcers have different names depending on where they’re located in the body: gastric ulcers if they are in the stomach, and duodenal ulcers when they are in the small intestine.
Stomach ulcers happen when the acid in your digestive track eats at the inner surface of the organ, causing a sore to form. Just like a sore on the outside of the body, this can be painful and difficult to heal. Normally, the digestive tract of the body is coated with a thick mucus layer that prevents this from occurring. When the acid level increases or this mucus thins, you could develop an ulcer.
The acidity and weakening of the stomach lining that leads to ulcers can be caused by several things:
- A bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
- Factors like genetics, smoking, certain diets, or habitual stress. Certain seasons, such as the winter holidays, can also increase your chances due to heightened stress and richer food intake
- Long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil or Motrin, which can negatively impact your stomach lining
- As a side-effect of other medications
- A rare disease called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome that leads to hyperacidity
Today, H. pylori causes about 95% of all duodenal ulcers and about 70% of all gastric ulcers.
Contrary to what you might have heard, eating spicy foods and acute instances of stress do not cause peptic ulcers to form, although they can worsen your symptoms.
What Are the Signs of Stomach Ulcers?
If you’ve developed a stomach ulcer, there are several signs that should alert you to the problem. Here are the main seven signs you should look for:
- Indigestion. This is the most common sign of a stomach ulcer.
- Dull burning. You will feel this in your stomach when it’s empty of food.
- Bloatedness. You may feel full even when your stomach is empty.
- Heartburn. If you’re experiencing acid reflux frequently, it could be because of an ulcer.
- Triggered flare-ups. Your symptoms may suddenly flare after eating foods that are high in fat.
- Nausea. You may notice feeling unwell first thing in the morning or when your stomach is empty
- Black stools. The dark color could indicate that an ulcer somewhere in your digestive tract is bleeding.
As we said earlier, in some cases, you may not have symptoms at all. On the flip side, the severity of your symptoms could put you in the hospital. Severe signs of a peptic ulcer may include:
- Feeling faint
- Trouble breathing
- Vomiting blood
Any signs of a stomach ulcer should prompt you to take a trip to the doctor. These illnesses, particularly if they are severe, will simply not get better on their own. If left untreated, a stomach ulcer can worsen to the point where it actually breaks through the stomach wall. This is called a perforation and it’s extremely serious.
Some of the other complications of an untreated stomach ulcer include:
- Gastric cancer
- Internal bleeding that can cause anemia
- Obstruction of food passing through the digestive tract
- Peritonitis, which is an intestinal infection caused from ulcer perforation
Can Stomach Ulcers Be Treated?
Yes, stomach ulcers can heal well with a medication regimen. The type of treatment will depend on what caused your ulcer.
If your stomach ulcer was caused by a H. pylori bacterial infection, you’ll likely receive antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medication. The antibiotics could include:
- Amoxil (amoxicillin)
- Biaxin (clarithromycin)
- Flagyl (metronidazole)
- Tindamax (tinidazole)
The PPIs that you will also be prescribed will block the production of stomach acid. There are both prescription and over-the-counter PPI medications, including:
- Nexium (esomeprazole)
- Prevacid (lansoprazole)
- Prilosec (omeprazole)
- Protonix (pantoprazole)
You may also end up taking histamine blockers, or H-2 blockers, that reduce the stomach acid released into your digestive tract. The reduction of stomach acid can promote healing and lessens the pain you may be feeling. Your doctor may prescribe these or you could take over-the-counter medications such as:
- Axid AR (nizatidine)
- Pepcid AC (famotidine)
- Tagamet HB (cimetidine)
Your doctor may also prescribe antacids to help with symptom relief. There are also medications called cytoprotective agents to protect the lining of your stomach, such as Carafate (sucralfate) and Cytotec (misoprostol).
Are There Foods I Should Avoid if I Have a Stomach Ulcer?
Interestingly, there is no specific diet that a person with ulcers needs to follow. The current recommendations are less about the foods you should avoid and more about foods that will help you lessen the risk of developing an ulcer in the first place.
If you’ve developed a stomach ulcer or are at risk of developing one, you should include more of these foods in your diet:
- Fruits and vegetables that are full of antioxidants that are anti-inflammatory
- Nuts, halibut, and yellowfin tuna, which all have selenium to enhance your ability to heal
- Probiotics that have active bacterial properties, such as yogurt, to improve digestion
- Spinach, oysters, and beef, which contain zinc to help you maintain a healthy immune system
Plenty of water, leafy greens, and fermented probiotic foods have all clinically been shown to help lessen your risk of developing ulcers. During the holiday season, you will want to take additional care of yourself and pay attention to your stress levels. Talk with your doctor about whether adding a probiotic supplement could also help you.
On the other hand, if you have acid reflux in addition to a stomach ulcer, there are foods that may trigger your acid reflux. In these instances, it’s a good idea to avoid alcohol and coffee, as well as spicy and acidic foods, which could cause your discomfort to increase.
A stomach ulcer is a manageable condition. The team at Gastroenterology Associates of Southwest Florida, P.A. is devoted to helping patients just like you live fuller, healthier lives. Contact us today to discuss your options for taking care of your health.