What is a stomach ulcer?
A stomach ulcer is a small, damaged area on the inside of the mucus membrane of the stomach. The wound can also be located in the first part of the colon in extension of the stomach. The food we eat passes from the mouth, down through the food pipe to the stomach, where it ends up in the duodenum. Afterwards, the remains pass through the small intestine and then the large intestine, before ending up in the rectum by the anus.
What are the symptoms?
Many people carrying a stomach ulcer do not notice it. However, when symptoms develop, they may include:
Pain and discomfort; the pain from a stomach ulcer is rarely constant and for some, the pain worsens after a meal. This is contrary to wounds in the small intestine which are more constant, might cause nightly pain and possibly be relieved by a meal.
A burning, biting or gnawing sensation in the stomach area.
Bloody vomit or black and sticky stools
Involuntary weight loss
What are the causes?
Stomach ulcers are caused by acid within the stomach – an acid that is secreted from the stomach’s own cells. Stomach acid along with the movements of the stomach help digest the food. The acid also helps protect against any harmful microorganisms. The stomach protects itself from the acid by releasing a mucin-layer. If this protective surface is damaged, the acid can reach the cells and cause damage resulting in stomach ulcers.
The two most common causes of wounds in the stomach and the small intestine are the bacteria ‘Helicobacter Pylori’ and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), herein Aspirin and Ibuprofen. Those who ingest these drugs in large doses or over a longer period of time are particularly vulnerable to developing stomach ulcers. This effect is due to the NSAIDs inhibiting the production of mucus which protects the cells of the stomach against the acid.
All people in all ages can develop a stomach ulcer, but the illness is considerably less common in children. However, the risk among children is increased if their parents are smokers or have stomach ulcers themselves. Another risk factor causing stomach ulcers is the intake of alcohol.
What are the risks?
Treatment of stomach ulcers may consist of medicine reducing the production of stomach acid. The drugs that are used are called ‘H2-blockers’ or ‘proton pump inhibitors’. If the cause of the ulcers is due to the mentioned Helicobacter Pylori, two antibiotics are used as a supplement in an attempt to eliminate the bacteria. In addition, the doctor can prescribe medicine that works by protecting the ulcer against the stomach acid while the wound heals.