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Last Updated: 05/12/2011
Do I have an Ulcer?
An ulcer, more formally known as a peptic ulcer, is a hole in the inner lining of the stomach, duodenum (small intestine), or esophagus (throat). A peptic ulcer of the stomach is called a gastric ulcer; of the duodenum, a duodenal ulcer; and of the esophagus, an esophageal ulcer. An ulcer occurs when the lining of these organs is corroded by the acidic digestive juices which are secreted by the stomach cells. These erosions can develop from an array of factors, and symptoms vary from person to person.
Most frequently, peptic ulcers are caused by the infection of bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which is found in more than 80% of patients with gastric and duodenal ulcers. Although peptic ulcers are not contagious, this bacterium may be transmitted from person to person through contaminated food and water. Diagnosis of the bacterium can be difficult because false negative Helicobacter pylori tests are common, and negative tests should be confirmed in the laboratory by another second, independent test. Peptic ulcers may also be caused by chronic use of anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, which can directly damage the mucous lining in the stomach and small intestines. Cigarette smoking is also a major risk factor for ulcers and not only causes ulcer formation but also increases the risk of ulcer complications such as ulcer bleeding, stomach obstruction and perforation. Cigarette smoking is also a leading cause of ulcer medication treatment failure. Other risk factors that may contribute to the development of peptic ulcers include psychological stress, genetic predisposition, improper diet (irregular or skipped meals), and excess secretion of hydrochloric acid. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol, coffee, colas, spicy foods, and caffeine have no proven role in ulcer formation. However, since coffee stimulates gastric acid secretion, and alcohol can cause inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, moderation in alcohol and coffee consumption is often recommended.
Peptic ulcers can range from no symptoms to feelings of hunger pain and sensations of gnawing or burning in the stomach region, usually in the upper abdomen. The pain usually occurs immediately after eating; however, the pain may not occur until hours later and may last anywhere from a couple minutes to a few hours. The pain frequently awakens the person at night, and symptoms are often quickly relieved by food, drinking milk, or antacids.
The goal of ulcer treatment is to relieve pain and to prevent ulcer complications, such as bleeding, obstruction, and perforation. The first step in treatment involves the reduction of risk factors (NSAIDs and cigarettes). For individuals infected with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, antibiotics are an effective treatment. The next step for treating peptic ulcers is medications. Antacids neutralize existing acid in the stomach, such as Maalox and Mylanta; however, the neutralizing action of these agents is short-lived, and frequent dosages are required.
Stomach ulcers affect about 4 million Americans every year, and about 20 million Americans develop at least one stomach ulcer during their lifetime. For more information talk to your physician or visit the Student Health Service website at <www.csuchico.edu/shs>.
Tips to a Healthy Digestive System
- Eat 20-35 grams of fiber per day. Fiber helps slow digestion, helping us eat less, feel full for longer, and potentially lose weight.
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Water flushes toxins out of vital organs and carries nutrients to your cells.
- Exercising regularly will help strengthen your muscles and stimulate the intestinal muscles to push digestive contents through your system.
- Eat a high fat diet. Too much fat will cause your body to pile on more fat tissue which will raise your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, certain cancers, and a stroke.
- Eat too much sugar. Eating too much sugar can lower the body’s natural immune response, and create higher acid amounts in the stomach, which can lead to diarrhea.
- Eat foods that are corrosive on the stomach. For example: coffee, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, and spicy food.
If these tips are too long/wordy then here is a more condensed version….
- Eat 20-35 grams of fiber per day
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day
- Exercising regularly
- Eat a high fat diet
- Eat too much sugar
- Eat foods that are corrosive on the stomach. i.e. coffee, alcohol, and carbonated drinks
Written by Alex Ireland – Peer Health Educator
Date: February 2011