Ulcers are holes or breakages in the tissue that lines the digestive tract which begins from the mouth to the rectum. These sores impede the normal functioning of the organs where they occur. Ulcers are most common in areas that come into contact with digestive enzymes and stomach acid.
There are several symptoms that a patient may exhibit which may indicate an ulcer in the gastrointestinal tract. Some of these symptoms are listed below. Please note that these are not all of the symptoms associated with ulcers.
- Stomach pain after ingesting food.
- Relief from stomach pain after taking water
- Severe stomach pain at night
- Drastic weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Burning sensation in the stomach
- Heartburn (rare)
Pain arising from an ulcer can travel up all the way to your neck and back.
Ulcers are caused by several conditions. Some of these conditions are listed below:
- Burns from digestive acid in the stomach
- Thinning of the mucus membrane that protects the stomach lining from digestive acids
- Certain medication that may corrode the stomach wall such as anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen)
- Genetics e.g. certain people are prone to attack by H. pylori bacteria which breaks down the stomach’s defense against stomach acids
- Producing too much digestive acid
Physical or emotional stress can increase the severity of an ulcer. Smoking causes the thinning of the mucous membrane in the stomach thus increasing the chances of developing an ulcer.
If ulcers do not disappear within two weeks of taking medication, your doctor may recommend tests so as to study your intestinal tract to determine the correct course of treatment. Some of the tests carried out include the following:
- Diagnostic gastroscopy. This is done by inserting a tube with a camera through your gullet and down into your stomach to view visible evidence of persistent ulcerations on your gastrointestinal tract.
- Test for H. pylori bacteria through one of the following: A blood test or a Stool antigen test
Ulcers treatments aim at reducing the size of ulcers, the spread of ulcers, and reducing the causative agent. Some of the ulcer treatments include the following:
- Getting rid of H. pylori bacteria
- Triple therapy: a combination of two antibiotics and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)
- Reducing the amount of stomach acid being produced by the body
- H2 blockers
- Proton pump inhibitors
- Neutralizing the stomach acid in the gastrointestinal tract by taking antacids
- Taking medication such as Sucralfate which coats the ulcers to prevent further burn from stomach acid
- Avoid habits such as smoking and taking alcohol to promote faster healing. Also avoid anti-inflammatory drugs e.g. aspirin and caffeine.