Table of contents
What is a stomach ulcer?
Also called gastric ulcer, a stomach ulcer is a type of peptic ulcer disease that is seen as painful open sores found in the lining of the stomach. Another type of peptic ulcer is the duodenal ulcer which occurs in the small intestine. In a stomach ulcer, the stomach is naturally protected by a thick layer of mucus. When this mucus is reduced and becomes thin by digestive juices, digestive acids begin to eat the tissues that line the stomach resulting in an ulcer.
What are the most common causes of stomach ulcers?
A stomach ulcer can be caused by the following factors below.
- Helicobacter pylori – Known to be the major cause of peptic ulcers, Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium that infects most people without causing them any harm. However, in some persons, the infection caused by H. pylori results in stomach ulcers by increasing the quantity of digestive acids which eat up the mucus layer on the lining of the stomach.
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – The use of NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen for an extended period can lead to the inhibition of the production of a chemical that is known to protect the stomach’s inner walls.
It is essential to avoid spicy foods once the patient is diagnosed with a stomach ulcer because eating spicy foods can worsen the ulcer and make treatment harder.
Symptoms of Stomach Ulcer
Stomach ulcers are generally associated with pain in the middle of the abdominal region. A stomach ulcer has several symptoms, with their severity being dependent on how severe the ulcer is. The intensity of the pain increases when the stomach is empty, and it may linger for some minutes to several hours. Although the symptoms may vary from person to person, some are common.
Other symptoms may include:
- blood-stained vomit
- easily getting full after a meal
- feeling of discomfort
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- dark tarry stools
When to seek medical care
A stomach ulcer has several symptoms, and it is advised to seek help from a medical practitioner whenever the patient notices any of the following:
- Whenever the patient experiences a burning sensation in the center of the stomach area, which worsens with time and may occur several days in a week,
- extreme fatigue or dizziness,
- red or dark stools or vomits,
- Have difficulty in breathing,
- Blood-stained vomit
The diagnosis of stomach ulcers begins with a physician reviewing a patient’s medical history and asking if the patient experiences symptoms associated with stomach ulcers, especially the burning sensation in the abdominal region. Confirmatory tests for stomach ulcers include:
- a series of X-rays,
- Endoscopy – The endoscopy process involves the insertion of a flexible thin tube connected to a tiny camera into one’s body. The tube passes through the throat and into the stomach.
- Endoscopic biopsy – this involves taking a tissue sample during endoscopy for test in the laboratory,
- Barium swallow – a patient drinks barium (a thick white fluid), and then an X-ray is done to view the stomach,
- A blood, stool or breath test may be carried out to rule out H. pylori as the cause of the ulcer. The urea breath test involves drinking a liquid and breathing it into a bag. Higher levels of carbon dioxide are observed if H. pylori are present. Urea will be converted to carbon dioxide by the bacterium.
The cause of one’s stomach ulcer determines the kind of treatment to be administered. Medications prescribed by a physician can treat most stomach ulcers, but surgery may be required in some rare cases. Without proper treatment, stomach ulcers can become more severe than when they initially developed, but if treated appropriately and in good time, they can be easily cured.
Surgery may be required in rare cases to treat recurrent stomach ulcers, which do not heal, cause bleeding, perforation of the stomach lining or cause gastric obstruction.
A medication called proton pump inhibitor (PPI) or histamine receptor blockers (H2-blockers) is prescribed to reduce the quantity of digestive acids in the stomach. In conditions where the cause of the ulcer is H. pylori, the physician may recommend using antibiotics to help kill the H. pylori bacterium or antacids to reduce the digestive acids in the stomach. In cases of a life-threatening bleeding ulcer, hospitalization may be required where the patient will be subjected to treatment such as endoscopy, IV ulcer medications, and sometimes a blood transfusion.
Treating the underlying cause of a stomach ulcer will help prevent the ulcer from returning. Possible complications of stomach ulcers include splitting of the stomach lining at the position of the ulcer, internal bleeding, which occurs at the site of the ulcer, and gastric obstruction, where the ulcer may hinder the passage of food through the digestive system.
The development of stomach ulcers can be prevented by following simple hygiene practices.
- Regularly washing hands with soap and water, especially before and after eating, will help prevent the dispersion of H. pylori, which is known to cause stomach ulcers.
- Proper washing of vegetables, cleaning all food items effectively and cooking food thoroughly.
- Avoid using NSAIDs for an extended period, especially when not recommended by a physician.
- Avoid the consumption of alcohol when on NSAIDs.
- Ensure to eat good food when on medications and take sufficient water.
- Avoid eating spicy foods.
Foods to eat with stomach ulcer
Eating a healthy diet can improve one’s overall health and help the intestinal tract. Certain foods can help boost one’s microflora (bacteria) in the body and help fight against the H. pylori infection. Eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and fibers is generally good for the immune system. Spicy foods should be completely avoided because they can worsen the ulcer. Foods that can be eaten to help with stomach ulcers include:
- broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and radish,
- leafy greens – spinach and kale,
- fruits – apples, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries,
- olive oil,
- Probiotic-rich foods including miso, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
Probiotics for stomach ulcer
Probiotics such as Lactobacillus spp, Saccharomyces spp, and Bifidobacterium spp are good for ulcers. In addition, probiotic foods possess beneficial bacterial content that helps lessen the H. pylori infection. Foods rich in probiotics are sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, tempeh, and yoghurt.
Stress has not been proven to cause stomach ulcers, but it can worsen the condition because it increases the stomach’s acidic content.
Stomach ulcers are more commonly seen in Western countries due to their lifestyle modifications and lack of healthy food in their diet. Every year about 4 million cases are detected in the USA. About 1 in 10 people are diagnosed with stomach ulcers in their lifetime.
The complications associated with stomach ulcers are:
b) Perforations (tear in the lining of the stomach)
d) Stomach cancer, if left untreated
Peptic ulcers can run in families (hereditary). It occurs most commonly in blood type “O,” and patients who don’t secrete ABO antigens in their saliva and gastric juices are at a higher risk.
Stomach ulcers can heal on their own in conditions where they are detected and treated early, and eating healthy food and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help heal stomach ulcers.