Understanding peptic ulcers
Peptic ulcers are sores that develop in the lining of the stomach, lower esophagus, or small intestine. They’re usually formed as a result of inflammation caused by the bacteria H. pylori, as well as from erosion from stomach acids. Peptic ulcers are a fairly common health problem.
There are three types of peptic ulcers: gastric ulcers: ulcers that develop inside the stomach; esophageal ulcers: ulcers that develop inside the esophagus; and duodenal ulcers: ulcers that develop in the upper section of the small intestines, called the duodenum.
Causes of peptic ulcers
Different factors can cause the lining of the stomach, the esophagus, and the small intestine to break down. These include: Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a type of bacteria that can cause a stomach infection and inflammation; frequent use of aspirin (Bayer), ibuprofen (Advil), and other anti-inflammatory drugs (risk associated with this behavior increases in women and people over the age of 60); smoking; drinking too much alcohol; radiation therapy; and stomach cancer.
Symptoms of peptic ulcers
The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is burning abdominal pain that extends from the navel to the chest, which can range from mild to severe. In some cases, the pain may wake you up at night. Small peptic ulcers may not produce any symptoms in the early phases.Other common signs of a peptic ulcer include: changes in appetite; nausea; bloody or dark stools; unexplained weight loss; indigestion; vomiting; and chest pain.
Tests and exams for peptic ulcers
Two types of tests are available to diagnose a peptic ulcer. They are called upper endoscopy and upper gastrointestinal (GI) series.
How to treat a peptic ulcer
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your ulcer. If tests show that you have an H. pylori infection, your doctor will prescribe a combination of medication. You’ll have to take the medications for up to two weeks. The medications include antibiotics to help kill infections and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to help reduce stomach acid.You may experience minor side effects like diarrhea or an upset stomach from antibiotic regimens. If these side effects cause significant discomfort or don’t get better over time, talk to your doctor.
If your doctor determines that you don’t have an H. pylori infection, they may recommend a prescription or over-the-counter PPI (such as Prilosec or Prevacid) for up to eight weeks to reduce stomach acid and help your ulcer heal.
Acid blockers like ranitidine (Zantac) or famotidine (Pepcid) can also reduce stomach acid and ulcer pain. These medications are available as a prescription and also over the counter in lower doses.Your doctor may also prescribe sucralfate (Carafate) which will coat your stomach and reduce symptoms of peptic ulcers.
•Perforation: A hole develops in the lining of the stomach or small intestine and causes an infection. A sign of a perforated ulcer is sudden, severe abdominal pain.
•Internal bleeding: Bleeding ulcers can result in significant blood loss and thus require hospitalization. Signs of a bleeding ulcer include lightheadedness, dizziness, and black stools.
•Scar tissue: This is thick tissue that develops after an injury. This tissue makes it difficult for food to pass through your digestive tract. Signs of scar tissue include vomiting and weight loss.
All three complications are serious and may require surgery. Seek urgent medical attention if you experience the following symptoms: sudden, sharp abdominal pain; fainting, excessive sweating, or confusion, as these may be signs of shock; blood in vomit or stool; abdomen that’s hard to the touch; and abdominal pain that worsens with movement but improves with lying completely still.
*Dr. Anthony Nwaoney is the Medical Director of Richie Hospital and Chief Executive Officer of El-Shaddia Group
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