A stomach ulcer is a small, inflamed wound where the stomach lining and underlying tissues have become exposed to the acidic contents of the stomach. Stomach ulcers are associated with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori which is present in approximately one third of the total Australian population. Many people with Helicobacter pylori experience no symptoms, but others may develop stomach ulcers.
Burning pain in the abdominal area which ranges from mild to severe
Pain is described as burning, gnawing or “hunger pain”
Pain usually starts 45-60 minutes after eating, or occurs during the night
Pain is relieved by taking antacids, drinking milk or large glass of water
Black, or bloody stools
Other symptoms may include lower back pain, nausea and vomiting, headache, and a choking sensation
Ulcers typically occur in the stomach or duodenum (part of the intestine), with duodenal ulcers being the most common type.
H. pylori is present in approximately one third of the total Australian population and is considered to contribute to about 90% of duodenal ulcers and 70% of gastric ulcers.
The presence of this bacterium alone is not generally sufficient to cause stomach ulceration – other issues which may be involved include stress, poor dietary habits and hereditary factors. It is believed that such influences contribute to a build up of the stomach acids that erode the protective lining of the stomach, duodenum, or oesophagus.
Patients who produce low volumes of gastric acids, and who have lowered amounts of antioxidants in their stomach lining are more likely to be infected with H. pylori. Many infected patients develop a chronic active gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) and some subsequently develop ulcer disease.
The inflamed tissue is very sensitive and much of the pain is caused by the inflamed tissues coming into contact with the acidic digestive juices.
Treatment of stomach ulcers focuses on neutralising or decreasing gastric acidity, but may also include a treatment programme designed to eradicate H. pylori infection.
Some patients find that their condition is aggravated by certain foods. Common culprits are citrus fruits, tomatoes, spicy foods, fatty foods, alcohol and caffeine. Cooked vegetables, non-citrus fruit and soft, easily digested foods such as porridge are preferable.
Take the time to chew your meals properly in order to give your stomach time to prepare for the food’s arrival by producing digestive juices.
Stop smoking, and avoid smoky environments.
Stress reduction should be an integral part of your approach to healing your stomach ulcer. Consider taking a vitamin B complex supplement to help your body cope in times of increased stress, and incorporate regular relaxation practices, such as meditation or yoga, into your lifestyle.
Your healthcare professional may conduct tests for H. pylori, even if you don’t have symptoms of ulcer disease. This is because the presence of the bacteria is a risk factor for the development of stomach ulcers and more serious conditions.
Be sure to chew your food thoroughly and eat slowly in order to keep your stomach functioning healthily. Eating on the run and when under stress can lead to an imbalance of the various digestive juices and enzymes required for proper food breakdown and absorption.
A stomach ulcer is a serious condition that should be treated by your healthcare professional.
Consult your healthcare professional if:
You are vomiting blood
Your stools look like they contain blood or coffee grounds
You have severe stomach pain