A chronic disease characterised by occasional occurrence of ulcers on stomach lining, which are caused by misbalance between aggressive and protective functions of stomach lining is called gastric ulcer or stomach ulcer. Gastric ulcer symptoms include pain, burning sensation at the upper abdomen, etc. Stomach ulcer treatment depends on the severity of the disease and may include both, medications and surgical intervention. More detailed information about causes of stomach ulcers, their symptoms, treatment options and diagnostics services is presented below.
WHAT ARE STOMACH ULCERS?
Stomach ulcers are painful sores that can form in the stomach lining or small intestine and are the most visible sign of peptic ulcer disease. They occur from the reduction of the thick layer of mucus that protects your stomach from digestive juices and thus enables the digestive acids to eat away at the stomach lining. Whilst stomach ulcers are easily cured, they can become severe without the proper treatment.
WHAT CAUSES STOMACH ULCERS?
Stomach ulcers aren’t necessarily caused by one single factor. Often, the decrease in the stomach’s mucus lining leading to an ulcer is usually caused by one of the following:
- An infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori(H. pylori)
- The long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- Excessive amounts of stomach acid (hyperacidity), which may be related to genetics, lifestyle (stress, smoking), and certain foods
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, a rare disease that causes the body to produce excess stomach acid.
There are also certain factors and behaviours that can put you at higher risk for developing stomach ulcers. These include:
- Frequent use of steroids (such as those for treating asthma)
- Hypercalcemia (overproduction of calcium)
- Family history of stomach ulcers
- Age(50 years and over)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
GASTRIC ULCER SYMPTOMS
There are a variety of symptoms associated with stomach ulcers, the severity of which depends largely on the size and severity of the ulcer. The most common symptom associated with stomach ulcers is a burning sensation or pain in the area between the chest and naval. In most cases, the pain will be more intense when your stomach is empty and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Some other common symptoms to be aware of include:
- Dull pain in the stomach
- Pain when eating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Acid reflux and burping
- Heartburn (burning sensation in the chest)
- Pain improves when you eat, drink, or take antacids
- Weight loss
STOMACH ULCER TREATMENT OPTIONS
Treating the ulcer as quickly as possible is very important as an actively bleeding ulcer can put you in the hospital for intensive treatment with IV ulcer medications. In some cases a blood transfusion is also required. Talk to your doctor to discuss a treatment plan from the outset.
- Nonsurgical treatment: Stomach ulcers that are the result of H. pylori, require antibiotics.
For mild to moderate stomach ulcers, your doctor will generally prescribe the following medications:
- H2 blockers: H2 blockers prevent your stomach from making too much acid
- Proton pump inhibitors: These inhibitors block the cells that produce acid
- Over-the-counter antacids: These antacids are used to help neutralize stomach acid
- Cytoprotective agents: Cytoprotective agents help protect the lining of the stomach and small intestine.
Often, symptoms of stomach ulcers ease quickly with treatment, however, even if your symptoms disappear, you should continue to take the medication prescribed by your doctor. This is especially important for H. pylori infections as it is very important that all traces of the bacteria are destroyed. Your doctor will also suggest that you avoid smoking, alcohol, and any medications or foods that can potentially trigger more symptoms. There are known side effects associated with stomach ulcer treatment including:
These side effects are only temporary. Should you experience extreme discomfort as a result of taking these medications, talk to you doctor about alternative options.
- Surgical treatment: In very rare cases, a complicated stomach ulcer will require surgery.
These typically include ulcers that:
- Continue to return
- Don’t heal
- Tear the stomach or small intestine
- Keep food from flowing out of the stomach into the small intestine
In these circumstances, surgical procedures may include:
- Removal of the entire ulcer
- Taking tissue from another part of the intestines and sewing it over the ulcer site
- Tying off a bleeding artery
- Cutting off the nerve supply to the stomach to reduce the production of stomach acid
HOW ARE STOMACH ULCERS DIAGNOSED?
- History taking and physical exam: During a physical exam, your doctor will ask you relative questions about your symptoms, lifestyle, eating habits and your family’s medical history. Once this is done your doctor will then perform a ‘physical’ part of the examination, which includes palpating your stomach area. This will allow him/her to gain a clearer picture of your condition.
- Gastroscopy (Upper endoscopy):;Endoscopy is a way for the doctor to visually examine the inside of your oesophagus and stomach. During an endoscopy, your doctor will insert a thin, flexible tube equipped with a small light and camera (endoscope) down your throat. At this point your doctor may decide to use this opportunity to collect a small sample of tissue (biopsy) for further testing.
- Barium X-ray: Barium X-ray involves the patient drinking a thick white liquid (barium) before having an x-ray performed, allowing for a better view of the stomach and small intestines.
- Urea breath test (UBT):The urea breath test (UBT) is used for diagnosing the presence of the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) in the stomach. For this test, the patient swallows a capsule containing urea made from an isotope of carbon. (Isotopes of carbon occur in very small traces in nature, and can be measured using special testing machines.)
If this virus is present in the stomach, the urea is broken down and turned into carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is absorbed across the lining of the stomach and into the bloodstream. It then travels in the blood to the lungs where it is excreted via the patient’s breath. Finally, samples of exhaled breath are collected, and the isotopic carbon in the exhaled carbon dioxide is measured.