70. Peptic Ulcers: Tender Treatment for a Sensitive Stomach

An ulcer is a sore or break in one of the body’s protective tissue layers. Ulcers located in the stomach (gastric ulcers) and ulcers in the first section of the small intestine (duodenal ulcers) are grouped under the label “peptic ulcers.” They afflict men, women, and children. A common symptom is a gnawing or burning feeling just above the navel within 1-1/2 to 3 hours after eating. The pain feels like indigestion, heartburn, or hunger. It frequently awakens the person at night. Food or antacids generally relieve the pain within minutes.

Persons with a family history of peptic ulcers tend to be at greater risk for getting them. A bacteria called Helicobacter pylori may cause about 80 percent of peptic ulcers. About 20 percent of peptic ulcers may be caused by the repeated use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, ketoprofen, and naproxen sodium.

Tests can be done to find out if you have an ulcer and if it is from the Helicobacter pylori bacteria. Your doctor can take a blood test, breath test, and/or get a biopsy of stomach tissue during an endoscopy  (looking at your stomach through a tube that’s inserted via your mouth). If Helicobacter pylori bacteria are present, an antibiotic and acid-blocker should be prescribed.

If you have an ulcer, you can soothe the pain in various ways. Some suggestions are:

  1. Eat smaller, lighter, more frequent meals for a couple of weeks. Big, heavy lunches and dinners can spell trouble for people with ulcers.  Frequent meals tend to take the edge off pain.

  2. Avoid anything that will stimulate excess stomach acid. That includes coffee (regular and decaffeinated), tea, alcohol, and soft drinks containing caffeine.

  3. Discontinue the use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, which irritate the stomach lining.

  4. Try antacids (with your physician’s okay) on a short-term basis. (Don’t try to self-medicate an ulcer. You may soothe the symptoms without treating the problem itself.)

  5. Don’t smoke. Smokers get ulcers more frequently than nonsmokers.

  6. Try to minimize stress in your life. Stress doesn’t cause ulcers. But for some people, stress triggers the release of stomach acid—and subsequent ulcer flare-ups.

Consult your physician if you think you have a peptic ulcer or if your stool becomes black and tarry (which can indicate a bleeding ulcer). He or she will prescribe the appropriate tests and treatment.

Chapter 2
  1. Major Medical Conditions:

  2. Prevention, Detection, and Treatment