Stomach ulcers, which are also known as gastric ulcers, are painful sores in the stomach lining. Stomach ulcers are a type of peptic ulcer disease. Peptic ulcers are any ulcers that affect both the stomach and small intestines.
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.
The road to a cure for ulcers has been a long and bumpy one. Recent news that ulcers are caused by a bacterium and can be cured with antibiotics has changed traditional thinking. Physicians and consumers have not been informed of the good news.
Early 20th Century
Ulcers are believed to be caused by stress and dietary factors. Treatment focuses on hospitalization, bed rest, and prescription of special bland foods. Later, gastric acid is blamed for ulcer disease. Antacids and medications that block acid production become the standard of therapy. Despite this treatment, there is a high recurrence of ulcers.
Australian physicians Robin Warren and Barry Marshall first identify the link between Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and ulcers, concluding that the bacterium, not stress or diet, causes ulcers. The medical community is slow to accept their findings.
A National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference concludes that there is a strong association between H. pylori and ulcer disease, and recommends that ulcer patients with H. pylori infection be treated with antibiotics.
Certain behaviors and factors increase the chances of developing a stomach ulcer; these include:
- Frequent steroid usage.
- Overproducing calcium – hypercalcemia.
- Consuming alcohol frequently.
- Age – they are more common in individuals over 50. People of any age can develop a stomach ulcer, but they are much less common in children. The risk in children is higher if their parents smoke.
The two main causes of ulcers of the stomach and small intestine are:
- Helicobacter pylori bacteria
- A class of painkillers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, (NSAIDs)
Less common causes of stomach ulcers include:
- Excess stomach acidity (hyperacidity) – this can occur for a range of reasons, including genetics, smoking, stress, and some foods
- Zollinger-Ellison – a disease that causes an excess of stomach acid to be produced (rare)
You may not have any. If you do, they may include:
- A gnawing or burning pain in your stomach between meals or at night
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
In severe cases, symptoms can include:
- Dark or black stool
- Vomiting blood or material that can look like coffee grounds
- Weight loss
- Severe pain in your belly
Diagnosis and test
Doctors follow the symptoms of a stomach ulcer by asking questions about how the pain feels, where and when it happens, and how frequent and long-lasting it has been.
This process helps to narrow down whether there is a stomach ulcer or not. Your doctor may also ask for a stool test or a breath test to find out whether the stomach ulcer is from Helicobacter pylori bacteria.
Endoscopy picture shows ulcer region
If there are more serious symptoms such as bleeding the doctor may require further testing, which may include:
Endoscopy – A camera to look at the gut lining; a biopsy (tissue sample) may be taken
Barium enema – A thick liquid that allows X-rays to be taken of the gut
Treatment and medications
If the doctor thinks there is a stomach ulcer, they may try to remove the cause by:
- If the cause is thought to be NSAIDs, they may change the type of painkiller being taken
- Trying the “test-and-treat” approach if the cause is thought to be H. pylori bacteria
- Once the cause has been removed, the symptoms of stomach ulcers can be treated by
protecting the ulcer from acid while it heals. Drugs a doctor could prescribe include:
- A proton pump inhibitor (PPI) – blocks acid producing cells
- H2-receptor antagonist – prevents stomach from producing excess acid
- OTC antacids or alginate
- Drugs that protect the stomach lining – Pepto-Bismol, for instance
Symptoms often subside quickly following treatment. However, the treatment should be continued, especially if the ulcer is due to an H. pylori infection. It is also important to avoid drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and any trigger foods during treatment.
In certain cases, surgery may be an option. For instance, if the ulcer continues to return, won’t heal, bleeds, or prevents food from leaving the stomach.
Surgery can include:
- Removing the ulcer
- Tying off bleeding blood vessels
- Sewing tissue from another site onto the ulcer
- Cutting the nerve that controls stomach acid production
Complications from stomach ulcers such as bleeding or perforation are rare. Either of these complications requires urgent medical attention.
Cabbage is a great remedy for a stomach ulcer. Being a lactic acid food, cabbage helps produce an amino acid that stimulates blood flow to the stomach lining. This in turn helps strengthen the stomach lining and heal the ulcer.
For stomach ulcer treatment, both ripe and unripe bananas are very effective. There are certain antibacterial compounds in bananas that inhibit the growth of ulcer-causing H. pylori.
Surprisingly, cayenne pepper is another very effective remedy for treating stomach ulcers. According to a review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the compound capsaicin present in cayenne pepper inhibits the secretion of stomach acids, boosts the production of alkali, and stimulates mucus secretions and gastric mucosal blood flow, thereby preventing and healing ulcers.
Coconut is very good for people suffering from stomach ulcers because of its antibacterial qualities. It kills the bacteria that cause ulcers. Moreover, coconut milk and coconut water have anti-ulcer properties.
Several studies suggest that licorice works effectively for treating and preventing stomach ulcers. It helps the stomach and intestines produce more protective mucus that forms a coating over the stomach lining. This in turn eases the pain from ulcers and speeds up the healing process
Fenugreek is known for its powerful healing properties and health benefits. You can use it to treat stomach ulcers also. Being rich in a mucilaginous compound, fenugreek protects the stomach’s lining by coating it like mucus, thereby facilitating the process of healing.
- Avoid foods that irritate your stomach. Use common sense: If it upsets your stomach when you eat it, avoid it. Everyone is different, but spicy foods, citrus fruits, and fatty foods are common irritants
- Stop smoking. Heavy smokers are more likely to develop duodenal ulcers than nonsmokers
- Practice moderation. Heavy consumption of alcohol and has been shown to contribute to the development of ulcers, so keep your intake to a minimum
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS including aspirin and ibuprofen) with food, as this may decrease your risk of irritating the lining of your stomach
- Learn how to control your stress levels. Regular exercise and mind-body relaxation techniques (such as guided imagery and yoga or tai chi) are often helpful.