For many years, ulcers were blamed on stress, unhealthy lifestyle or too much spicy food. Today, doctors know the true cause of this painful digestive order. You may not always be able to control whether or not you will suffer from ulcers, but you can find successful treatment, both from your doctor and at home.
How do you know it’s an ulcer?
Peptic ulcers are sores in the lining of the stomach or small intestine. The most common symptom is burning pain, felt anywhere from your belly button to your breast bone. The pain is caused by stomach acid coming in contact with the ulcerated area. It can last for just a few minutes or several hours, and it may be worse when your stomach is empty. Ulcer pain may flare up at night, and it tends to go away for a few days only to return. Acid-reducing medicines may temporarily relieve the pain, but do not treat the underlying condition.
If stress and diet are not the root causes of ulcers, what is? The most common culprit is a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori. It exists around the world and is estimated to be found in 50% of people over 60 years of age. H. Pylori live in the mucous that protects the tissue lining the stomach and small intestine. Often, it will cause no problems at all.
Trouble occurs when H. pylori causes inflammation in the mucous layer, resulting in ulcers. Why this happens in some individuals and not others is uncertain. It is not completely clear how H. pylori spreads, but may be transmitted through contaminated food and water. It can pass from person to person via close contact, like kissing or drinking from the same glass.
H. pylori are not the only cause of ulcers. Regular use of pain relievers, both prescription and over-the-counter varieties, can weaken the stomach lining and make you vulnerable to ulcers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, naproxen (Aleve) and ketoprofen (Orudis KT) can lead to ulcers. Taking NSAIDs with food can reduce the risk of damage to the stomach lining.
Smoking is also a risk factor for ulcers. Nicotine causes your body to produce more stomach acid, making you vulnerable. Smoking can also slow down your recovery after being treated for ulcers. Excessive alcohol consumption is thought to contribute to ulceration, but other factors such as H. pylori may need to be present to cause an ulcer.
Types of Treatment
If H. pylori is the cause of your ulcer, your doctor will treat you by killing the bacteria and reducing the levels of stomach acid in your body. Antibiotics are required to eliminate H. pylori. You will only need to take them for one to two weeks, along with a proton pump inhibitor or PPI. PPIs reduce stomach acid, allowing the ulcer to heal. Examples of PPIs are Prilosec, Prevacid, Aciphex, Protonix and Nexium. If you do not have H. pylori, PPIs will be used on their own.
If an ulcer has become aggravated to a certain point, bleeding may occur. In this case, an upper endoscopy is performed. In this procedure, the doctor inserts a small scope through your mouth to repair the ulcer. If an ulcer has created holes in the stomach lining, surgery may be necessary.
Home care for ulcers is fairly straightforward. Avoid acidic and spicy foods, which may increase discomfort. If you have an ulcer, it is necessary to see a doctor for treatment so complications like bleeding may be avoided.
Some natural remedies to try include licorice, manuka honey and bananas. Found in health food stores.
Licorice should be consumed as De-Glycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL). Glycyrrhizin increases water retention and blood pressure. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial reported that 16 people with significant stomach discomfort showed an average improvement of 78% when given 360 mg of DGL thrice daily, compared to 34% in the placebo group. Other trials have compared DGL to prescription drugs showing that 760 mg DGL 3 times daily is as effective as the popular prescription drug cimetidine. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice causes no water retention or increase in BP.
Taking one to two tablespoons of manuka honey each day may inhibit growth of the bacteria responsible for ulcers. Eating two bananas per day may neutralize the acidic gastric juices that cause irritation to ulcers.
You can speed your recovery by avoiding things that produce excess stomach acid like cigarettes and alcohol. Do not over use NSAIDs for pain. Medications like containing acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) are a good alternative. Some people believe milk helps ulcers, but this is not the case. It temporarily soothes pain by coating the stomach, but it can end up making the ulcer worse.
If you suspect an ulcer, stay calm and see your doctor as soon as possible. It is likely that he or she will be able to treat this common condition quickly and easily. Although we now know ulcers are not caused by stress, worrying about your health is still harmful! Seek treatment so you can return to feeling better as soon as possible.