Stomach ulcer:causes, symptoms and treatments
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Stomach ulcers occur when the thick layer of mucus that protects your stomach from digestive juices is reduced. This allows the digestive acids to eat away at the tissues that line the stomach, causing an ulcer.Stomach ulcers may be easily cured, but they can become severe without proper treatment.What causes stomach ulcers?Stomach ulcers are almost always caused by one of the following:</svg>”);”>an infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxenRarely, a condition known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers by increasing the body’s production of acid. This syndrome is suspected to cause less than 1 percent of all peptic ulcers.Symptoms of stomach ulcersA number of symptoms are associated with stomach ulcers. The severity of the symptoms depends on the severity of the ulcer.The most common symptom is a burning sensation or pain in the middle of your abdomen between your chest and belly button. Typically, the pain will be more intense when your stomach is empty, and it can last for a few minutes to several hours.Other common signs and symptoms of ulcers include:</svg>”);”>dull pain in the stomachweight lossnot wanting to eat because of painnausea or vomitingbloatingfeeling easily fullburping or acid refluxheartburn, which is a burning sensation in the chest)pain that may improve when you eat, drink, or take antacidsanemia, whose symptoms can include tiredness, shortness of breath, or paler skindark, tarry stoolsvomit that’s bloody or looks like coffee groundsTalk to your doctor if you have any symptoms of a stomach ulcer. Even though discomfort may be mild, ulcers can worsen if they aren’t treated. Bleeding ulcers can become life-threatening.How are stomach ulcers diagnosed?Diagnosis and treatment will depend on your symptoms and the severity of your ulcer. To diagnose a stomach ulcer, your doctor will review your medical history along with your symptoms and any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking.To rule out H. pylori infection, a blood, stool, or breath test may be ordered. With a breath test, you’ll be instructed to drink a clear liquid and breathe into a bag, which is then sealed. If H. pylori is present, the breath sample will contain higher-than-normal levels of carbon dioxide.Other tests and procedures used to diagnose stomach ulcers include:</svg>”);”>Barium swallow: You drink a thick white liquid (barium) that coats your upper gastrointestinal tract and helps your doctor see your stomach and small intestine on X-rays.Endoscopy (EGD): A thin, lighted tube is inserted through your mouth and into the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. This test is used to look for ulcers, bleeding, and any tissue that looks abnormal.Endoscopic biopsy: A piece of stomach tissue is removed so it can be analyzed in a lab.Explore the interactive 3-D diagram below to learn more about stomach ulcers.Treating stomach ulcersTreatment will vary depending on the cause of your ulcer. Most ulcers can be treated with a prescription from your doctor, but in rare cases, surgery may be required.It’s important to promptly treat an ulcer. Talk to your doctor to discuss a treatment plan. If you have an actively bleeding ulcer, you’ll likely be hospitalized for intensive treatment with endoscopy and IV ulcer medications. You may also require a blood transfusion.Nonsurgical treatmentIf your stomach ulcer is the result of H. pylori, you’ll need antibiotics and drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs block the stomach cells that produce acid.In addition to these treatments, your doctor may also recommend:</svg>”);”>H2 receptor blockers (drugs that also block acid production)stopping use of all NSAIDsfollow-up endoscopyprobiotics (useful bacteria that may have a role in killing off H. pylori)bismuth supplementSymptoms of an ulcer may subside quickly with treatment. But even if your symptoms disappear, you should continue to take any medication prescribed by your doctor. This is especially important with H. pylori infections, to make sure that all bacteria are eliminated.Side effects of medications used to treat stomach ulcers can include:</svg>”);”>nauseadizzinessheadachesdiarrheaabdominal painThese side effects are typically temporary. If any of these side effects cause extreme discomfort, talk to your doctor about changing your medication.Surgical treatmentIn very rare cases, a complicated stomach ulcer will require surgery. This may be the case for ulcers that:</svg>”);”>continue to returndon’t healbleedtear through the stomachkeep food from flowing out of the stomach into the small intestineSurgery may include:</svg>”);”>removal of the entire ulcertaking tissue from another part of the intestines and patching it over the ulcer sitetying off a bleeding arterycutting off the nerve supply to the stomach to reduce the production of stomach acidHealthful dietIn the past, it was thought that diet could cause ulcers. We know now this isn’t true. We also know that while the foods you eat won’t cause or cure a stomach ulcer, eating a healthful diet can benefit your intestinal tract and overall health.In general, it’s a good idea to eat a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and fiber.That said, it’s possible that some foods play a role in eliminating H. pylori. Foods that may help fight off H. pylori or boost the body’s own healthy bacteria include:</svg>”);”>broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and radishesleafy greens, such as spinach and kaleprobiotic-rich foods, such as sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, yogurt (especially with lactobacillus and Sacharomyces)applesblueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberriesolive oilAdditionally, since people with stomach ulcers may have accompanying acid reflux disease, it is a good idea to stay away from spicy and sour foods while an ulcer is healing.