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What Are Stomach Ulcers?

Learn about stomach ulcers, what causes them, why they are dangerous, and how to treat them.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
September 19, 2013
Episode #132

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Have you ever experienced a nagging, aching, burning pain in your stomach right below the end of your sternum (the bone in the center of your chest)?  Did your doctor tell you that you may be suffering from a stomach ulcer?  What is it? And how did you get it?

Peptic ulcers can happen at any age.  But not every stomach pain in that same location is necessarily an ulcer – so please don’t panic.  And even if it is, and it’s mild and non-complicated, it’s really easily managed in the same way that acid reflux and heartburn are managed.  So let’s find out what peptic ulcers really are, what causes them, and how we can best treat them.;

What Is a Peptic Ulcer?

The word “peptic” refers to anything in the gastrointestinal (GI) system.  And you can think of ulcers as areas in the GI tract, most especially in the stomach and small intestine, that are inflamed and irritated to the point of forming an ulcer, which is a disintegration or break in the skin lining. 

What Causes Peptic Ulcers?

Despite common myth, stress does not cause stomach ulcers.  There are several reasons some people get peptic ulcers – here are the top 3:

1.  Poor Lifestyle Habits:  Untreated heartburn and acid reflux can eventually erode the lining of the stomach and intestine.  In addition to cigarette smoking and obesity, certain foods have been shown to trigger such events:

  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Tomatoes/Tomato sauce
  • Mint
  • Blueberries
  • Greasy/Fatty foods

2.  Anti-Inflammatory MedicationsAnti-inflammatories are very helpful treatments for some ailements, however, when taken in excess they can actually do more harm than good.  Causing ulcers is one of their potential side effects. Some examples of anti-inflammatories include medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, and other common drugs. 

3.  H. Pylori:  A bacteria that normally inhabits the stomachs of some people can cause ulcers to form in others.  This bacteria is called Helicobacter Pylori, or H. Pylori for short.

So what if the lining of your tummy is eroded, you may ask?  Why does it matter? How would you even know?  Well, here are the reasons we worry about an ulcer:

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