You may be familiar with the burning pain of acid reflux that travels from your stomach up to your chest after a meal, but this new pain feels different. It’s more like a constant gnawing in your middle or upper stomach between meals. You also feel bloated and often nauseous. What’s going on?
Chances are good that you are one of the 500,000 new cases of peptic ulcers diagnosed each year. Approximately 5 million Americans suffer with an ulcer of some sort, although not every person experiences symptoms.
In addition to the more common burning, bloating and nausea, severe symptoms include:
• Dark stool caused by bleeding
• Vomiting blood that might resemble coffee grounds
• Severe pain in the mid to upper abdomen
• Weight loss
What Causes Peptic Ulcers?
This disorder of the upper gastrointestinal tract is the result of damage to the mucosa, the moist tissue that lines the esophagus, stomach, the duodenum region of the small intestine and other digestive organs.
For many years, excess stomach acid was thought to be the cause of ulcers, but doctors now believe the key cause of most ulcers is an infection with a common bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori. Scientists believe the bacterium causes chronic inflammation of the stomach or duodenum, weakening the mucosa, and allowing acid to cause an open sore, or ulcer, in the lining. An estimated 30 percent of Americans are infected with H. pylori, and one in six will develop ulcers. Ulcer disease primarily affects older individuals, most commonly occurring between 55 and 65 years of age.
Factors that damage your sensitive mucosa and put you at risk for ulcers include:
• Chronic use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, that interfere with the body’s production of prostaglandins – the protective, hormone-like chemicals that keep your stomach lining healthy
• Although the exact relationship between cigarette smoking and H. pylori is unclear, “smokers are about two times as likely to develop ulcer disease as nonsmokers,” advises U.S. News &
• World Report
• Excessive drinking of alcohol
• Radiation treatment to the area
Diagnosing Your Ulcer
Your gastroenterologist may prescribe an acid-blocking medication used to treat heartburn to see if your symptoms improve. You may undergo a diagnostic upper endoscopy if your symptoms are severe.
Although ulcers sometimes heal on their own, it’s important to recognize their warning signs. If not properly treated, ulcers can lead to serious health problems, including bleeding or perforation of the organ lining, a life-threatening condition requiring emergency surgery. 35 percent of patients diagnosed with gastric ulcers will suffer serious complications.
Treating Your Ulcer
Your doctor will advise lifestyle changes that might include giving up smoking, NSAIDs and alcohol. He might prescribe medications that include:
•Antibiotics if you have H. pylori infection
•Proton pump inhibitors to reduce acid levels and allow the ulcer to heal
•Upper endoscopy to treat a bleeding ulcer
•Surgery if the ulcer has created a hole in the wall of the stomach, or if there is serious bleeding that can’t be controlled with an endoscope
In the majority of cases, a peptic ulcer will heal in time with proper treatment.
Are you concerned about a loved one’s ulcer or your own stomach pain? Revere Health’s gastroenterologists are specialists who diagnose and treat a wide variety of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, including ulcers and acid reflux. We offer compassionate, patient-centered care in multiple Utah locations and work with you to develop a treatment plan based on your individual needs and goals.