The Causes of Stomach Ulcers: Information & Prevention
About one in ten Americans will develop a peptic ulcer in his or her lifetime. That said, most people know very little about stomach ulcer causes and symptoms. Common misperceptions associate stomach ulcers with fast food and the stress of modern life. In reality, however, there's no evidence to support these beliefs. To better understand how you can prevent or treat an ulcer, learn the facts about this all-too-common affliction.
What Is an Ulcer?
Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop within the lining of the stomach, esophagus or upper small intestine. While stress and diet can irritate an existing ulcer, the actual cause is usually owed to bacterial infection or certain medications.
What Are the Symptoms?
Burning pain is the most typical sign of a peptic ulcer. The pain usually intensifies when stomach acid contacts the ulcerated area. Although it can sometimes be vague depending on the person, ulcer pain tends to manifest in the following ways:
- May be detected anywhere between the breastbone and naval
- Seems worse when stomach is empty
- Often intensifies at night
- Can disappear and then return after several days or weeks
- May be temporarily relieved by foods that buffer stomach acid or acid-reducing medication
In severe cases, ulcers can also cause vomiting of blood and dark, tarry stools related to internal bleeding. Nausea and vomiting can also be a sign, along with appetite changes and unexplained weight loss.
How to Prevent Stomach Ulcers
Because they are often caused by a bacterial infection, there's no way to completely eliminate your risk of developing an ulcer. That said, you can reduce your risk by refraining from activities that irritate the stomach lining. This includes limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco. You should also limit over-the-counter pain medications and other drugs which can inflame the gastrointestinal system.
When to See a Doctor
While they might seem like a painful nuisance, stomach ulcers can have serious consequences, including severe internal bleeding and scar tissue that can prevent food from passing through the digestive tract. Ulcers can also create holes in the stomach wall, which can result in peritonitis.
For these reasons, it's important to see a doctor if you experience any noticeable symptoms that could be a sign of an ulcer. Your doctor can prescribe medications that kill bacteria, reduce stomach acid and protect the lining of your stomach.