An ulcer is an open painful wound. And as much as the society connects it to stress, alcohol abuse, and eating spicy food, researchers have found no evidence to exactly link these theories to the disease.
What are Ulcers?
Science reported that ulcers are very common. To define it, it is what forms in the protective lining of the stomach including the upper part of the small intestine called duodenum, not to strengthen it, but to break it. As you may have noticed, peptic ulcers affect the areas that come into contact with stomach acids and enzymes.
Ulcers have different types. It only depends based on where the ulcer is positioned. For example, esophageal ulcers are the ulcers that can be found in the esophagus. It is a rare kind of ulcer that resulted from too much exposure to some medications such as certain antibiotics or anti-inflammatories. But it can also be resulted from drinking too much alcohol.
Duodenal ulcers, on the other hand, are a common type of ulcer that usually spotted in the duodenum.
What Causes Ulcer?
Admit it. You were once among the people who believe that ulcer is a result of eating spicy food, drinking too much alcohol, or resulted from stress. Or perhaps your idea is still in line with these tales.
Well, let’s get it straight.
It’s neither alcohol nor stress, but a bacterial infection in the stomach and duodenum that causes peptic ulcers. Thanks to the discovery of doctors Robin Warren and Barry Marshall in 1982, the crowd realize that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, or simply H. pylori, is what infected the stomach and causes an ulcer. The bacterium has the capacity to live and grow in the stomach according to the two doctors.
The doctors’ Nobel Prize discovery has been the foundation of current several research and statistics.
In one research, H. pylori have been reported to infect 90% of the population. But interestingly, those 90% percent who are infected with the bacterium does not develop an ulcer. So, health professionals hypothesize that the case may vary on an individual. For instance, the stomach lining of a certain patient may already have an existing problem and the bacterium simply contributed to the development of an ulcer. This is based on some studies which show that some people naturally produce more stomach acid in which stress exposure or spicy food does not concern.
How is Ulcer Formed?
With the health professionals’ hypothesis, they come up with a process in which they believe is how the ulcer form. It is as follows:
- H. pylori destroy the coat protecting the duodenum and stomach.
- The digestive system’s sensitive tissues lining is then invaded by stomach acids.
- The acid and bacterium directly irritate the stomach lining, resulting in ulcers and sores.
Although we can put all the blame to the H. pylori for causing peptic ulcer, the condition can still cause from other sources such as:
- Regular consumption of ibuprofen and aspirin. The two medicines are well known for fighting inflammation inside the body and they are very effective in treating arthritis, but these pain relievers can cause some people to develop an ulcer.
- Smoking cigarettes. Too much acid in the stomach can result in an ulcer. Unfortunately, nicotine in cigarettes is number one in doing this so.
- Drinking too much alcohol. Drinking alcohol does not concern the stomach acid. But the presence of alcohol in the stomach can eventually thin it down as well as the intestines.
- Stress does not directly influence ulcer, but it contributes to its development. For example, when a severe physical or emotional stress is involved, it causes the appetite of the patients to decline.
Therefore, the uncontrolled increase in stomach acid production plus the changes in the immune system result in ulcers. Any illness that challenged the body’s ability to heal, risk ulcer’s development.
What are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Ulcers?
A few hours after taking a meal, the stomach responds negatively. You may feel a sharp pain or a stomachache between the belly button and the breastbone. You may experience this same negative feeling early in the morning or during night time. In other words, any time of the day whenever your stomach is empty. The symptom can sometimes be resolved by taking antacid medication or by eating something.
In addition to stomach pain, other symptoms include:
- Bloody or blackish stools
- Frequent burping or hiccupping
- Loss of appetite
- Dizziness or nausea
- Abnormal weight loss
Vomiting and having bloody stools are symptoms that may indicate a serious stomach problem. This may require the immediate attention of your doctor. For example, if there is blood in your vomit or if your vomit looks like coffee grounds, call your doctor right away as this situation arises with severe ulcers only.
If you suspect that you have an ulcer, immediately contact your doctor. Untreated cases of ulcer can lead to more serious complications such as bleeding in the digestive system or a hole in the duodenum/stomach wall.
How do Doctors Diagnose Ulcers?
Medical history is the primary tool of doctors. They based on patient’s symptoms, past health, family health, and any medications to diagnose an ulcer. But aside from this method, they do physical examination by either of the two techniques:
- Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Series. The test is like an x-ray type of examination in the stomach, esophagus, and duodenum. The doctor will give the patient a whitish liquid called barium to drink. He or she will drink the barium while getting an x-ray. If an ulcer exists, the x-ray will show it.
- Endoscopy. In this test, the doctor uses a skinny lighted tube with a special camera on the end, called an endoscope, to see the inside lining of the digestive tract. Before the whole endoscopy procedure, a patient will be given anesthesia and will have no memory of it. The doctor will insert the endoscope into the throat down into the esophagus, and finally into the stomach and duodenum. He or she will be able to observe the inner lining of the organs on a screen and can even take pictures. Doctors can also get a sample of tissue to test for H. pylori bacteria.
Doctors can also detect the presence of H. pylori through a blood test or test in a patient’s bowel movement and breath.
How is Ulcer Treated?
Fortunately, ulcers are treatable. A patient can be given a combination of medication:
- Usually, patients are required to take two antibiotics every day for about two weeks to kill the H. pylori.
Antacids are also given for 2 months of medication or longer to decrease the amount of stomach acid. Antacid can also help in healing the ulcer by protecting the lining of the stomach.