Those unfortunate enough to have had stomach ulcers will know full well just how uncomfortable and painful they are.
But how do you know if you actually have one, and how do they develop?
MedicineNet.com contributor Jay Marks MD says stomach ulcers are sores in the lining of the stomach. “A peptic ulcer is a break in the inner lining of the esophagus, stomach or small intestine (duodenum). A peptic ulcer of the stomach is called a gastric ulcer. Peptic ulcers occur when the lining of these organs is corroded by the acidic digestive (peptic) juices which are secreted by the cells of the stomach.
“A peptic ulcer differs from an erosion because it extends deeper into the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum and excites more of an inflammatory reaction from the tissues that are involved.”
What causes ulcers?
There is a clear medical consensus that, contrary to popular belief, stomach ulcers are not primarily caused by stress or bad eating habits. “Stomach ulcers aren’t necessarily caused by one single factor,” says Steven Kim MD, contributor to Healthline.com.
He elaborates on this statement by asserting that they could have one of several causes and genes, medicine and infections all have a role to play. The first is infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori). In fact, according to the National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse, more than half of ulcers occur as a result of an infection with H.pylori.
Secondly, long-term use of nonsteroidal drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, could also have a deleterious effect. The third factor is that of excess acid (hyperacidity) in the stomach, which may be connected to lifestyle factors such as smoking and drinking as well as genetics. Zollinger-Ellison syndrome may also be a cause. It is a rare disease that makes the body produce excess stomach acid.
Dr. Melinda Ratini, WebMD contributor, adds radiation treatment and serious illnesses to this list. Older people (50+) are also at bigger risk of developing ulcers.
This is not to say that certain foods, especially those loaded with fat and spice, do not aggravate ulcers.
What are the symptoms?
According to the UK National Health Service (NHS), stomach pain is the foremost symptom when it comes to ulcers. The pain caused by an ulcer can radiate from the middle of your stomach up to your neck, down to your belly button, or even through your back. It can last between a few minutes and several hours. It is likely to occur within a few hours of eating and also during the night.
Other symptoms include indigestion, heartburn, loss of appetite and weight loss. Kim adds nausea, vomiting, bloating and pain whilst eating to this list.
Marks, J. 2016. “Peptic ulcer disease”. http://www.medicinenet.com/peptic_ulcer/article.htm.
Ratini, M. 2014. “What causes ulcers?” http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/digestive-diseases-peptic-ulcer-disease#1
NHS. 2015. “Symptoms of stomach ulcer”. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Peptic-ulcer/Pages/Symptoms.aspx.
Chandler, S. 2013. “What to eat & not to eat when you have an ulcer”. http://www.livestrong.com/article/347146-what-to-eat-not-to-eat-when-you-have-an-ulcer/.