The extremely dreaded and often misleading term “peptic ulcer” or more commonly known as stomach ulcer, is nothing but breaks or holes that develop in the Esophagus (oesophagal ulcer), Stomach (gastric ulcer) and Small intestine (duodenal ulcer). These sores are formed due to tissue damage and usually occur when the stomach acids erode the linings of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract. While both men and women are at risk of developing a peptic ulcer, in rare cases, peptic ulcer can also lead to death. However, as a sigh of relief, with timely medical consultation and intervention, the disease can be cured within a month or two.
Causes of Peptic Ulcers:
The digestive tract is layered by mucus that protects from digestive acids. In case the volume of mucus decreases and/or the volume of digestive acid increases, an ulcer occurs. The two most common causes of peptic ulcer are infection by Helicobacter pylori bacteria and regular intake of painkillers. Less commonly, a tumour of the acid-secreting cells in the stomach can cause peptic ulcer. Further to that, few lifestyle-related factors including smoking and alcohol intake increases a person’s risk of developing a stomach ulcer.
The most common symptom of peptic ulcer is burning sensation and excruciating pain in the middle of the abdomen. This usually happens when the mucous membrane erodes causing a gradual breakdown of the tissue and the stomach acids creating an irritating and burning sensation in the ulcerated portion of the stomach. The pain may keep on reoccurring for several days or weeks. The pain can be relieved by having milk, food or antacids. However, it might be highly possible that an ulcer patient doesn’t experience anything but dull pains and slight discomfort. Also, a large number of people with ulcers don’t notice any symptoms thus delaying the entire process of diagnosis and treatment thereafter.
Other visible gastrointestinal symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling bloated
- Excessive belching
Various other symptoms like dark or black stool, blood vomits and unexplained weight loss can also be experienced by an ulcer patient. These symptoms are alarming and call for immediate medical attention.
The diagnosis of peptic ulcers is relatively easy. In low-risk cases, the patient is made to drink a chalky liquid (barium) after which an X-ray is taken of the stomach, oesophagus and intestine. The liquid coats the linings of the GI tract which facilitates the visual through an X-ray. Though used on a vast scale, this method might sometimes miss small ulcers. In high-risk cases, where chances of bleeding ulcers or stomach cancer persist, an upper endoscopy is suggested so that the exact location and condition of the ulcer can be detected. Additionally, to detect H.Pylori infection, the doctor would also test the patient’s blood, breath or stool.
Peptic ulcers, if left untreated, can lead to serious problems including infections, a puncture or a hole in the stomach, scarring the tissue which eventually blocks the passage of food and various other digestive ailments. Therefore, it is advised to get effective treatment as soon as a problem is recognized by ulcer patients.
The treatment options for peptic ulcers depend on its causal factors and the treatment regimen is focused towards eliminating the causative of the ailment. Treatment options for peptic ulcer include:
- Getting rid of potential ulcer causes like smoking, alcohol use and certain medications
- Administration of antibiotics, if the cause of ulcer is bacteria
- Endoscopy and/or surgery, if required
- Certain food restrictions that provide relief