An ulcer starts with tiny holes in the stomach or in the lining of the intestines. If an ulcer goes untreated, huge problems can rise up. Approximately four million people in the U.S. have an ulcer – you can also think of this statistic as one in every 50 people. Not only do ulcers cause extreme discomfort for the affected, but the economical drain on all Americans is huge as well. People with ulcers often miss work, visit the doctor several times and even become hospitalized.
Ulcers typically occur in the lining in the upper portion of the gastrointestinal tract, but when they happen in the stomach, they’re called gastric ulcers. Ulcers that form in the front part of the small intestine are called duodenal ulcers. However, any portion of the gastrointestinal tract can get an ulcer. Most ulcers are only half a centimeter wide, but some of them may be a lot larger. Most people who claim that they have an ulcer, though, actually have peptic ulcer disease. Peptic ulcer disease is caused by any sores or ulcers that are in the duodenum, the first portion of the small intestine.
There are tons of acids in the stomach, all of which help in digestion but which are also extremely toxic. Usually, a layer of mucus protects the stomach and intestines from this acid. While there isn’t one singular cause for ulcers, it is known that an ulcer occurs when there’s an imbalance of digestive fluids in both the stomach and the duodenum. This imbalance, and thus ulcers, can be caused by many things. The bacteria Helicobacter pylori can cause an infection, resulting in an ulcer. Excessive use of prescription and non-prescription painkillers can also cause ulcers. These painkillers include non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin and ibuprofen. There are types of aspirin that are coated, which claim to prevent ulcers, but can, in fact, still contribute to an ulcer forming. Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can cause ulcers. When people have this syndrome, there are tumors on the acid-producing cells that are in the stomach, and these tumors make the cells produce more acid then they should. These tumors are called gastrinomas.
While sometimes an ulcer won’t have any symptoms, the symptoms that may occur are highly uncomfortable. People with an ulcer may experience a burning pain in either their upper or middle stomach at night or between meals. This, however, can be confused with acid reflux, and isn’t immediate cause for concern of an ulcer. Bloating, heartburn, nausea and vomiting are all signs of an ulcer as well. People who have a severe case of an ulcer or ulcers will have even more severe symptoms. These symptoms include dark stool, which is caused by bleeding; vomiting up blood, some of which may appear to have a coffee grind-like substance in it; unexplained weight loss; and extreme pain in the upper or mid abdomen.
The elderly and people who have peptic ulcer disease are at the highest risk of developing an ulcer. However, people who also have the H. pylori bacteria or who take painkillers often are also at risk for developing an ulcer. People who have a family history of ulcers, who drink alcohol regularly, or who have an illness, including lung, kidney or liver disease, are at risk for developing an ulcer as well. Duodenal ulcers are most common in people ranging from 20 to 50 years of age, while gastric ulcers are only found in people over 40 years old. Duodenal ulcers are quite a bit more common than gastric ulcers.
Many ulcers will heal on their own. However, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore the symptoms of an ulcer, and you should still visit a doctor if you feel that you may have an ulcer. Some ulcers, specifically severe ones, will need some sort of treatment so that they don’t get worse. If an ulcer isn’t take care of properly, you may experience inexplicable bleeding, a perforation in the wall of your stomach, or a gastric outlet obstruction. This obstruction is caused by either swelling or scars that eventually block the way between the stomach and the small intestine.
A doctor may be able to diagnose an ulcer by simply talking to you and discussing your symptoms. In order to confirm the doctor’s diagnosis, though, the doctor may request a test to be taken. Before treating you directly for an ulcer, the doctor may suggest that you take medicated that will block acid and relieve your heartburn. This medication could make your symptoms improve and solve this health problem. If your condition doesn’t improve, you may have to get an upper endoscopy. In this procedure, a small endoscope with a light on it is inserted into the throat and down into the stomach to look for any abnormality. This procedure is typically done only if the patient is exhibiting symptoms of a severe ulcer. In severe cases, surgery may be required.
However, most doctors won’t do an endoscopy before treating the ulcer. This is usually a last-resort procedure that’s done when all other cures fail. Many doctors feel that if the ulcer isn’t arising from the use of painkillers, then it may very possibly be from the H. pylori bacteria. The doctor will check to see if this bacterium is in the patient, and if so, they will prescribe medications to treat it. Medications include proton pump medications, which will reduce the acid in your body, helping the ulcer to heal; antibiotics to treat an H. pylori infection; and even Pepto-Bismol.
On top of visiting a doctor to be treated, there are ways to treat ulcers yourself with some lifestyle changes. As soon as you suspect that you have an ulcer, you should rid your life of substances that may contribute to the problem. Smokers and drinkers should stop immediately. While one glass of red wine each night is essentially good for your heart, the alcohol could be contributing to the ulcer, so it’s a good habit to break, at least until the ulcer is completely healed. You should also refrain from using both over-the-counter and prescription medications. While many people think that drinking milk will reduce the acid levels in the body and help the ulcer to heal, the opposite is actually true. Milk may provide a bit of relief from the pain of the ulcer, but the beverage will actually cause your body to produce even more digestive juices and acids, ultimately making the ulcer worse.
Acid reflux is another common acid-related problem, and one that’s often confused with ulcers. Acid reflux is a problem that affects several Americans. There’s a valve at the entrance of your stomach, and this valve is made of muscle. This muscle is called the lower esophageal sphincter. The sphincter is supposed to close right after food passes through it, but in some people, it doesn’t close all the way. This allows stomach acid to get into your esophagus, causing acid reflux. People who experience acid reflux may feel a burning in their chest, often called heartburn. People who experience these symptoms twice a week or more may have acid reflux disease, which is also called gastroesophageal reflux disease.
There are many causes for acid reflux. One of the most common causes is an abnormality known as a hiatal hernia. If the upper part of the stomach and the sphincter relocate above the diaphragm, the acid will move into the esophagus, causing acid reflux. There are several other reasons for getting acid reflux, though. Regularly eating large meals or laying down immediately after finishing a meal can cause acid reflux, and people shouldn’t bend at the waist or even lay down on their back right after eating a lot of food. Similarly, if you snack on food close to your bedtime, you may notice that you have acid reflux throughout the night. Certain foods may also contribute to the problem, including citrus fruits, like lemons and grapefruits; tomatoes; chocolate; mint; garlic; onions; spicy foods; and fattening foods. Also, alcohol, soda, coffee and tea can contribute to acid reflux. Similar to people who develop ulcers, taking aspirin or ibuprofen, muscle relaxers or blood pressure medicine may be at risk for developing acid reflux, too. People who are overweight or obese are also at risk for acid reflux. Women who are pregnant may also notice that they experience acid reflux during their pregnancy.
The symptoms of acid reflux can be so similar to ulcers that the two problems may be easily confused. Heartburn is one of the main symptoms of acid reflux. Regurgitation, which is having a sour or bitter taste in the back of your throat and mouth, caused by acid, is another main symptom. People with acid reflux may also feel bloated and burp a lot. Similar to ulcer symptoms, people with acid reflux may have either bloody or black stools or vomit blood. One scary symptom of acid reflux is dysphagia, which is when the esophagus narrows, making it feel like something is stuck in your throat. If you have hiccups that won’t stop, inexplicable nausea or weight loss for no apparent reason, you may be battling acid reflux. Lastly, if you notice that you’ve started to wheeze or if you have a dry cough, a hoarse voice or a sore throat, you may have acid reflux.
You don’t have to run to a doctor right away, but if you experience these symptoms several times a week, you may want to visit a doctor.
For more information about ulcers and acid reflux, be sure to visit Reflux Remedy at www.refluxremedy.com today.