ULCERS – UNDERSTANDING THE BURN

Why do we get stomach ulcers and what causes these painful sores in the lining of our stomachs?

For those not familiar with the condition, stomach ulcers are caused when the lining of the stomach fails, which allows the stomach acid to eat away at the stomach wall. This results in the formation of a stomach ulcer. It is important to note that once you have been diagnosed with an ulcer, it can easily be treated although it needs to be attended to timeously.

The reasons for most ulcers:

H.pylori: The first possible way that the stomach lining can be compromised is through the action of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori). These bacteria are generally responsible for most stomach ulcers. This organism weakens the protective coating of the stomach which allows damaging digestive juices to eat away at the sensitive lining below.

NSAIDS: The second main reason for the reduction of stomach lining is the prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used for pain relief. These drugs block substances in the stomach that help maintain blood flow and protect the area from injury, which has the effect of allowing the stomach lining in places to be compromised over time. They are present in many non-prescription drugs used to treat fever, headaches and minor aches and pains. If you need to be on long term pain medication, we recommend that you consult your doctor in order to maintain gut health.

In addition to these two main causes, there are a number of other risk factors that should be taken into account:

Genetics: Genetics play a role. Superfluous acid in the stomach can cause stomach ulcers and this could be as a direct result of your genetic make-up.

Stress: Another factor that causes ulcers is stress. Even though stress is no longer blamed for being the direct cause of ulcers, those with ulcers have reported that emotional stress increases ulcer pain.

Physical Stress: Physical stress is often the cause of ulcers developing in the stomach. Patients and individuals with injuries – either those that have undergone major surgery or patients that have serious burns – usually require medical treatment to prevent the occurrence of ulcers or complications that are instigated by ulcers, which usually include bleeding.

Smoking: Smoking is bad for you – period. Statists show that smoking not only slows down the healing process of ulcers that already exist, but they can be the cause of new ulcers developing and are a contributing factor to ulcers recurring!

Lifestyle: A poor lifestyle will always have a detrimental effect on your health – this includes excessive use of alcohol. Even though there is no link that can prove that the excessive use of alcohol is a contributing factor in individuals suffering from peptic ulcers – it is a known statistic that patients with cirrhosis of the liver often suffer from ulcers and peptic ulcers. The use of steroids, often used for conditions such as asthma, may also have an effect if used excessively.

Age: If you are over the age of fifty and have a family history of ulcers, chances are good that you will be vulnerable to getting stomach ulcers.

How will you know if you have an ulcer?

  • The first indication that you might have an ulcer is the pain which occurs between the area of the navel and the breastbone. However, symptoms will differ from one person to the next.
  • Other indications include nausea, vomiting, belching, loss of weight, poor appetite as well as a general feeling of lethargy.
  • If your stool is black in colour it could be an indication of a bleeding ulcer and you should consult your doctor.

THE TREATMENT OF STOMACH ULCERS

The main approach to treating a stomach ulcer is firstly to get rid of the possible underlying cause. Medication is almost always needed to alleviate the symptoms and must be used to eradicate the H.pylori bacteria. There are a number of tests that can be conducted by your doctor to test for the presence of H.pylori, including a blood test, stool test and breath test.

If it is indeed established that the ulcer is as a result of H.pylori, a treatment programme will be started. Antacids may be used in order to sooth the pain, but will not treat the cause of the ulcer. It is important to note that antacids may block the absorption of medication and therefore it is recommended that they should be taken at least 1 hour before and 3 hours after any other medication.

The introduction of an H2 blocker or a Proton-pump inhibitor which acts by reducing gastric acid production allows for pain relief as well as healing.

In general, an ulcer sufferer will need to take a combination of an antacid and either a H2 blocker of Proton-pump inhibitor.

In order to deal with the cause of the ulcer namely the H.pylori there are a number of different options. The first is to visit your local doctor who will then prescribe a combination of antibiotics to take care of the bacteria.

In recent times however there has been a move away for antibiotics to a more natural alternative namely mastic gum, which works by killing the H.pylori. Another product that has been used in conjunction with mastic gum is DGL-liquorice which has been shown to have a soothing affect and protects the stomach from the harmful effects of NSAIDs.