Ulcer - Symptom, Treatment And Causes
Last Updated: Jun 29, 2021
What are Ulcers ?
Ulcers are breaks or holes in the protective lining of the stomach or duodenum. Duodenal ulcers are more common than stomach ulcers. Comparatively rare, esophageal ulcers, which forms in the esophagus (swallowing tube) are often the result of alcohol abuse or exposure to medications like certain anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics.
While secretion of excess stomach acids plays a key role in the formation of ulcers, in a recent research, it has also been found that bacterial infection is another major cause of ulcers. There are medical evidence that Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria is present in more than 80% of stomach ulcers and 90% of duodenal ulcers.
What are the types of ulcer?
TYPES OF ULCERS are:
- PEPTIC ULCERS:
These develop on the inside lining of the stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine or esophagus. They form when digestive juices damage the lining of the stomach or intestine. These are most often caused by inflammation after being infected by H.pylori and long-term use of painkillers. There are three types of peptic ulcers:
- Gastric ulcers
- Oesophageal ulcers
- Duodenal ulcers
- ARTERIAL ULCERS:
These are open sores that develop on the outer side of ankle, feet, toes and heels. They develop from damage to the blood vessels due to lack of blood flow to the tissue. Arterial ulcers appear as red, yellow or black with hairless skin and leg pain.
- VENOUS ULCERS:
It is the most common type of leg ulcers and is often formed on the leg, below the knee, and on the inner area of the ankle. They are formed because of damaged veins which is caused by inadequate flow of blood back to the heart. A person may also have inflammation, swelling, itchy skin, scabbing and discharge.
- MOUTH ULCERS:
These are small sores or lesions that develop in the mouth or at the base of gums. They are also known by the term canker sores. Mouth ulcers are triggered by biting the inside of the cheek, hard teeth brushing, food allergies, hormonal changes, vitamin deficiencies, bacterial infection and other serious illnesses.
- GENITAL ULCERS:
These develop on the genitals including vagina, penis, anus or surrounding areas. Genital ulcers usually occur because of trauma, inflammatory diseases, sexually transmitted infections or allergic reactions to skincare products. They are accompanied by a rash, pain, itching, swollen glands in the groin and fever.
What are the early symptoms of an ulcer?
The early symptoms of ulcers may vary from one person to another. In general, the notable symptoms are as follows:
- Having a burning sensation and pain in the stomach. It is mainly due to stomach acid which makes the condition worse in the stomach. The pain can be reduced by eating certain foods and acid-reducing medicines.
- Intolerance to fatty foods
- Having heartburn sensation
- A feeling of fullness or bloating
- Vomiting or nausea, in some cases, vomiting may appear to be in red or black color
- Dark bloody stools
- Experiencing appetite changes
- Having unexplained weight loss
What are the causes of ulcers?
Causes of ulcers are as follows:
- Stomach Ulcers are more likely to develop in people having a sedentary lifestyle or poor eating habits.
- Oesophageal ulcers often result from exposure to medications such as certain antibiotics or anti-inflammatories and alcohol abuse.
- Ulcers also form as a result of excessive stomach acid secretion, consuming fatty and oily foods, alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. All of these factors contribute to a build-up of stomach acids which decay the protective lining of the stomach, esophagus and duodenum.
- According to a recent theory, bacterial infection is also one of the causes of peptic ulcers. For example, H.pylorii is present in 80% of stomach ulcers and 90% of duodenal ulcers.
- Overuse of over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen, alcohol consumption, psychological stress and smoking exacerbate the formation of ulcers, especially in those with H.pylori.
- Stomach ulcers are more probable to occur in elderly people. With advancing age, the pylorus relaxes and allows excess bile to seep up into the stomach which erodes the stomach lining.
- People with type A blood group are more prone to get cancerous stomach ulcers.
- Duodenal ulcers develop in those who have an O blood group type. This is because people of this blood group are unable to produce certain substances on the surface of blood cells that protect the lining of the duodenum.
Why are ulcers worse at night?
Ulcers are the open sores that develop in the inner lining of the stomach or duodenum. One of the aggravating factors is an increase in gastric acid in the stomach. When we eat food at night, our stomach makes a lot of acid to digest the food.
Once the digestion is completed, the stomach gets emptied and it remains as such for a longer duration of time. But the gastric acid levels still remain high there, as a result of which ulcers that are already present worsen.
How to diagnose ulcers?
- Urea breath test:
The patient is diagnosed using a urea breath test where a specific drink is given to patient which gets broken down by H.pylori bacteria and the breath is then analyzed to see if he/she has H.pylori infection.
- Stool antigen test/Blood test
A blood test is done to analyze whether it contains antibodies to H.pylori which is nowadays replaced by stool antigen test.
This is done to look inside the stomach directly and detect whether or not it contains an ulcer. The process involves passing an endoscope with a camera at one end into the mouth and the duodenum. A mild sedative may be given before the procedure and an anesthetic may be sprayed onto the throat to make the procedure more comfortable.
The images captured by the camera usually confirm or rule out the ulcer. However, sometimes a small tissue sample may also be needed to be taken and tested for the same. This is usually an outpatient procedure and the patient is usually sent home the same day.
Endoscopy is another procedure to diagnose ulcers. PPIs and H2 receptor antagonists are used to reduce acid levels until the swelling goes down. If an obstruction is caused by scar tissue, it may either need endoscopic balloon inflation.
How do you know if an ulcer is bleeding?
An ulcer is a condition that may be symptomatic in some cases while in most cases it is asymptomatic. In such cases, there is an unnoticeable slow bleeding in the gut which produces signs of anaemia, evident from the symptoms like pale skin colour, breathlessness due to physical activity, fatigue etc.
Heavy bleeding is evident as black and sticky stool, presence of dark red colour blood in the stool and bloody vomits with coffee grounds consistency.
How to treat ulcers?
Ulcers are easier to treat usually with antacids and antibiotics. There are also several other drugs that reduce the amount of acids produced by the stomach. A person suffering from ulcers should consult a physician. Ulcers if left untreated can lead to serious illnesses like anemia and stomach carcinoma.
Most of the ulcers are treated using various medications and in some cases, surgical procedure is required. Antibiotics may be used to eradicate H.pylori whereas anti-ulcer medications are used to inhibit the acid secretions and heal ulcers.
In cases of bleeding or perforated ulcers, Esophagogastroduodenoscopy may be performed and surgery is recommended. Your physician may advise to quit smoking, limit alcohol consumption and avoid overuse of NSAID's to prevent the development of ulcers.
Can an ulcer be cured?
Ulcers, commonly referred to as ‘’Gastric ulcers’’ or ‘’Peptic ulcers’’ are open sores whose developmental sites are stomach and duodenum. The treatment of ulcers depend upon its cause and it usually gets healed in a month or two. Recommended treatment involves medication such as Antibiotics and Proton Pump inhibitors in case of bacterial infection or the same in combination with NSAIDS.
Alternative medications include H2-receptor antagonists, antacids etc. In addition, avoiding stress, alcohol, smoking, spicy foods etc. may help.
What are the complications of ulcer?
Complications of these are quite rare but can get very serious. Some of the complications of stomach ulcers are as follows:
- INTERNAL BLEEDING:
It is the most common problem which occurs when the ulcer forms at the site of a blood vessel. Bleeding can either be slow and long-term leading to anemia or rapid and severe causing a person to pass blood in vomit or stools. Endoscopy is usually used to find the cause of bleeding.
It is a rarer complication but can be quite serious if occurs. Perforation enables the bacteria of your stomach to escape and infect the lining of your abdomen causing peritonitis. From here, the infection rapidly spreads into the blood causing sepsis before spreading elsewhere. This comes with the risk of multiple organ failure and can be fatal if left untreated.
- GASTRIC OUTLET OBSTRUCTION:
In this condition, an inflamed stomach ulcer obstructs the normal passage of food through digestive tract. Symptoms are:
- Repeated vomiting with large particles of undigested food particles
- Persistent feeling of bloating or fullness
- An easy feeling of fullness even after small meals
- Unexplained weight loss
When should I go to the doctor for an ulcer?
Ulcers are the open sores that develop in the stomach lining. It starts with symptoms that are mild initially but may get serious or fatal if left untreated.
The most common symptoms are dull and burning pain in the stomach followed by bloating and burping, nausea and vomiting, weight loss with or without loss of appetite, feeling of weakness or anemia and sudden acute pain that persists for a longer duration.
What are the long term effects of ulcers?
The ulcers, when left untreated for a long time, can lead to the following situations:
- Bleeding: Patients may experience internal bleeding and blood loss, leading to anemia and blood in vomiting or stools. This may require hospitalization or transfusion.
- Infection: The ulcer when left untreated can perforate through the walls of the stomach or small intestine and can cause serious infection in the abdominal cavity region.
- It can lead to the blockage of the passage of the food via the digestive tract and thus can lead to symptoms of vomiting, nausea, weight loss, swelling in the intestine, etc.
What are the home remedies for an ulcer?
Home remedies for ulcer are as follows:
1. Flavonoids: Foods rich in these are:
- Red grapes
- Tea's especially green tea
These are gastroprotective and help fighting against H.pylori.
2. Probiotics: Foods containing these are:
They are helpful in wiping out the H.pylori and ease the recovery as well.
3. Honey: It is a powerful antibacterial and antioxidant and fights against H.pylori.
4. Garlic: The extract of garlic can prevent the growth of H.pylori as tested on lab, animals and human trials.
6. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains: Polyphenols are known for protecting the ulcers and foods containing them are dried rosemary, Mexican oregano, dark chocolate and flaxseed.
7. To reduce acid reflux pain, you must also limit:
- Caffeine and other caffeinated beverages
- Carbonated beverages
- Chilies and hot peppers
- Processed foods
- Foods with a high amount of salt
- Deep-fried foods
- Acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes
- Limit alcohol
- Avoid over-eating
- Avoid eating within three to four hours of sleep
What drink is good for ulcers?
In addition to medications, management of ulcers also includes natural home remedies. One of them is Flavonoids or bio flavonoids containing drinks such as green tea, black tea, red wine etc. Another one is Probiotic drinks like buttermilk, yoghurt, kefir, yakult etc.
Honey and cranberry juices are the other alternatives. The basic concept behind these drinks being good for ulcers includes Antibacterial and Gastroprotective action that facilitates healing and faster recovery.
Is coffee bad for an ulcer?
An Ulcer is a painful condition that gets aggravated by an increase in amount of acid in the stomach. Caffeine is an aggravating factor which is under recommendation up to 400mg per day. Coffee which is a common beverage contains caffeine and it should be consumed not more than 250ml i.e 3 cups a day which is equivalent to the recommended dose.
Though it is not a causative agent for ulcers, yet should be taken in moderation.
What fruits help ulcers?
Ulcers are basically due to bacterial infection and increasing acid in the stomach. Based on this fact, Polyphenol along with other antioxidants that promote healing and antibacterial properties that inhibit bacterial growth form the basis of consumption of fruits that can help in treating ulcers.
Along with these, high fibre content also helps. Such fruits include berries, apples, red grapes, pomegranates etc.
What does Experts Says about ulcers :
As per medical experts, people with blood group A are more prone to get stomach ulcers, which at times can also get cancerous. It has also been observed that duodenal ulcers often happens with people with blood type O since they are unable to produce certain substance which helps in protecting the lining of their duodenum.
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