What Are Stomach Ulcers?
Learn about stomach ulcers, what causes them, why they are dangerous, and how to treat them.
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Symptoms and Complications of Peptic Ulcers
1. Pain: It’s painful! This is how most patients present to the doctor’s office when suffering from ulcers. They are not pleasant. It may be painful to eat, or even on an empty stomach. Some people start to rapidly lose weight because they can’t tolerate eating.
2. Bleeding: If the ulcer is severe, it can sometimes start to bleed. At that point, patients may say they have blood in their stools, or more often have “black” stools. When this happens, it’s really an urgent issue that needs to be taken care of as soon as possible.
3. Perforation: If severe enough, ulcers have the potential to perforate (or cause a “hole” to form through the entire lining of the stomach). This is no longer an urgent issue, but an emergency! Patients with ulcers that perforate need immediate surgery to repair the hole. You don’t ever want an ulcer to get to this point.
4. Cancer: Rarely, peptic ulcers have the potential to become cancerous. That’s why most patients with an ulcer who get an endoscopy also get a biopsy of the ulcer during the procedure to make sure there aren't any cancer cells.
Diagnosis of Peptic Ulcers
If you experience signs and symptoms of an ulcer, especially if there’s bleeding or pain that doesn’t improve with typical treatment, your doctor may decide to send you to a specialist. The gastroenterologists may place a camera down your throat, called an endoscopy, and that is when the actual diagnosis of peptic ulcer is made.
Treatment of Peptic Ulcers
Here is the advice I give to most of my patients with peptic ulcers:
1. Stop smoking. Cigarette smoking is a known stomach irritant.
2. Lose weight. Excess abdominal weight places pressure on the tummy and can exacerbate GI problems. Check out the Weight Loss section of Quick and Dirty Tips to lose the weight and get healthier.
3. Change your eating habits. Please refer to my previously-mentioned list of food triggers to avoid.
4. Avoid anti-inflammatory medications. Acetaminophen is an alternative over-the-counter drug you can take for pain that does not have an anti-inflammatory component (however, check with you own doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you).
5. Treat H. Pylori. If you have H. Pylori in your stomach (which is often screened through a blood test), your doctor may give you a regimen of medications and antibiotics to take to eradicate it. Please note that some people have this bacteria normally residing in the gut and it never causes any problems and is left alone. We only treat it if it’s problematic.
6. Take Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s). This is a group of medications that include omeprazole (which is now over-the-counter and affordable in the U.S.) and is often the first line of defense for people with ulcers. Your doctor will decide your dose and length of treatment.