The Seven Signs Of Stomach Ulcers
Stomach ulcers are very common. While many people experience painful symptoms, some do not. This is a problem, because if left untreated, a stomach ulcer can cause significant problems. Therefore, its important to learn to detect the signs of a potential stomach ulcer in your body.
Fortunately, stomach ulcers can be easily treated by your doctor once you find out you have one. This blog will help you understand the types of stomach ulcers, what causes them, and what treatments are available today.
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How Can I Prevent Ulcers
You may be able to prevent ulcers from forming if you:
- Talk to your doctor about alternatives to NSAID medications to relieve pain.
- Discuss protective measures with your doctor, if you cant stop taking an NSAID.
- Opt for the lowest effective dose of NSAID and take it with a meal.
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What Are The Symptoms Of A Bleeding Ulcer
Bleeding ulcers dont always cause pain. Sometimes the first signs of a bleeding ulcer are signs of anemia. These include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
You might have a heavier bleed if you notice:
- Blood in your poop, or black poop that resembles tar.
These symptoms require urgent medical attention.
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Presence Of Blood In Stool
When the person uses the toilet, he may experience and be surprised with the presence of a blood in the stool discharge. It is one of the most well-known symptoms of a bleeding ulcer.
If the person goes for a long call of nature and notices dark red traces of blood in the feces, he should seek medical assistance. Blood traces in the stool of a given individual is reasonable enough to believe that he may be experiencing a problem of bleeding ulcers within the digestive track.
It is important to note that blood in the stool is an indicative sign and symptom of internal bleeding ulcers that needs to be confirmed through examinations by a medical professional.
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How Are Peptic Ulcers Diagnosed
Your healthcare provider will look at your past health and give you a physical exam. You may also have some tests.
Imaging tests used to diagnose ulcers include:
- Upper GI series or barium swallow. This test looks at the organs of the top part of your digestive system. It checks your food pipe , stomach, and the first part of the small intestine . You will swallow a metallic fluid called barium. Barium coats the organs so that they can be seen on an X-ray.
- Upper endoscopy or EGD . This test looks at the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. It uses a thin lighted tube called an endoscope. The tube has a camera at one end. The tube is put into your mouth and throat. Then it goes into your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Your health care provider can see the inside of these organs. A small tissue sample can be taken. This can be checked for H. pylori.
You may also have the following lab tests to see if you have an H. pylori infection:
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What Are Peptic Ulcers And What Causes Them
Peptic ulcers are sores in the inner lining of the stomach or upper small intestine. They form when the digestive juices produced by the stomach erode or eat away the lining of the digestive tract. Peptic ulcers may form in the lining of the stomach or just below the stomach, at the start of the small intestine .
The most common causes of peptic ulcers are infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria and frequent use of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs .
How Soon After Treatment Will I Feel Better
If you take all medicines as prescribed and avoid irritating the ulcer with NSAIDs, alcohol or smoking, your ulcer should heal well within a few weeks. Surgical cases may take a few weeks more. Your healthcare provider will follow up with you at the end of your course of medication to make sure the ulcer has healed and any infection has cleared. They will probably take follow-up tests, including an upper endoscopy to look at the site of the ulcer and tests for H. pylori, if you had it, to make sure the infection is gone.
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What Ulcer Treatments Are Available
If your ulcer is bleeding, your doctor may treat it during an endoscopy procedure by injecting medications into it. Your doctor could also use a clamp or cauterization to seal it off and stop the bleeding.
For most people, doctors treat ulcers with medications, including:
- Proton pump inhibitors : These drugs reduce acid, which allows the ulcer to heal. PPIs include Prilosec®, Prevacid®, Aciphex®, Protonix® and Nexium®.
- Histamine receptor blockers : These drugs also reduce acid production and include Tagamet®, Pepcid®, Zantac® and Axid®.
- Antibiotics: These medications kill bacteria. Doctors use them to treat H. pylori.
- Protective medications: Like a liquid bandage, these medications cover the ulcer in a protective layer to prevent further damage from digestive acids and enzymes. Doctors commonly recommend Carafate® or Pepto-Bismol®.
Nsaid Drugs And Stomach Ulcers
A group of painkillers known as NSAIDs carries a risk of stomach ulcers. The two best-known NSAIDs are aspirin and ibuprofen.
The risk of ulcers increases if the drugs are taken in high doses, or regularly for a long time.
Stronger NSAIDs, such as those that need a prescription, are riskier for stomach ulcers than those that can be bought over-the-counter .
People should always check labels and talk to a pharmacist or a doctor about any concerns with using painkillers. They may recommend an alternative such as acetaminophen.
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Can Peptic Ulcers Be Prevented
Doctors arent sure how H. pylori bacteria spread from person to person. The bacteria have been found in saliva , so kissing may be one way. They also may spread through food, water, or contact with vomit thats infected with the bacteria.
Regular use of NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal problems and bleeding in some people. Acetaminophen does not cause stomach ulcers and is a good alternative to NSAIDs.
As with many infections, washing your hands well and often is an important part of ulcer prevention. This is extra important after you use the bathroom and before you eat. And take good care of your body by exercising regularly and not smoking or drinking.
How Do Nsaids Cause A Peptic Ulcer
To understand how NSAIDs cause peptic ulcer disease, it is important to understand how NSAIDs work. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduce pain, fever, and inflammation, or swelling.
Everyone has two enzymes that produce chemicals in your bodys cells that promote pain, inflammation, and fever. NSAIDs work by blocking or reducing the amount of these enzymes that your body makes. However, one of the enzymes also produces another type of chemical that protects the stomach lining from stomach acid and helps control bleeding. When NSAIDs block or reduce the amount of this enzyme in your body, they also increase your chance of developing a peptic ulcer.
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How Do You Know If You Have A Stomach Ulcer
If you have a stomach ulcer, you may have:
- Burning/dull pain or gnawing pain in the center of your tummy
- Pain that worsens between meals
- Vomiting in the middle of the night
Visit the doctor/gastroenterologist if you
- Vomit blood that is bright red or dark brown
- Are passing dark, sticky, tar-like poo
- Have sudden, sharp pain in your tummy that gets worse steadily
- These could be the signs of internal bleeding, and this can be fatal.
How Is A Peptic Ulcer Treated
Some peptic ulcers heal on their own. But if you donât treat them, the ulcers tend to come back.
They can erode the blood vessel wall in your stomach or small intestine. The ulcers also can eat a hole through the lining and get infected. Or they can cause swelling, which may block food from moving from your stomach into your small intestine.
If H. pylori is the culprit, your doctor may prescribe a mix of antibiotics to kill it. If aspirin and other NSAIDs are behind the ulcer, you may need to cut down on them, stop taking them altogether, or switch to another pain reliever.
Your doctor may also give you antacids to fight stomach acid, or prescribe medicine to lessen the acid your body makes. Prescription drugs called cytoprotective agents can help protect the lining of the stomach or small intestine so the ulcer can heal.
When To Call A Healthcare Provider
If the ulcer is large or deep, growing in size, incredibly painful, or if you have any signs of infection , you notice a bad smell coming from your ulcer, or you’re running a fever, call your healthcare provider right away.
You’ll also want to call your healthcare provider if your ulcer, no matter how minor, isn’t showing signs healing after a week to 10 days.
In most cases, the ulcer will be dressed to protect the wound. However, if your ulcer is draining considerably, your healthcare provider may recommend leaving the wound uncovered. Dressing the ulcer if it’s draining considerably can impede healing.
If your ulcer is painful, pain medication can be prescribed. Antibiotics may also be prescribed either prophylactically to prevent infection or to treat an already infected wound.
Debridement is done to remove dead tissue from more serious ulcers. For deep ulcers or those that aren’t healing after a long period of time, skin grafts may be needed. In the most severe cases, part of the foot, leg, or other appendage may have to be amputated.
Restoring good circulation is key in treating and preventing ulcers. This includes elevating the legs, wearing compression stockings, reducing pressure on ulcer-prone areas, superficial vein surgery. Leg ulcers, in particular, are incredibly likely to reoccur, so compression stockings are often needed to be worn for life.
Treatment Of Peptic Ulcers
Its really important to get the right treatment if youre diagnosed with a peptic ulcer. If treated properly, duodenal ulcers will heal in around four weeks and stomach ulcers in eight.
Treating the underlying cause lowers the chance of your ulcer coming back. This usually means getting rid of the H. pylori or stopping taking NSAIDs.
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How Can I Be Sure Its An Ulcer
The only way to be sure an ulcer is causing your discomfort is with a medical diagnosis. We will evaluate your medical history and conduct a thorough physical examination.
To determine the root cause of your ulcer, we may run blood, stool, or breath tests. These tests are designed to look for signs of helicobacter pylori, the bacteria linked to ulcers.
Depending on your unique symptoms, we may also order an endoscopy. During an endoscopy, we insert a tube with a tiny camera down your throat and into your stomach to take pictures of any potential damage and collect tissue samples for analysis.
Can Stomach Ulcers Just Go Away
Some ulcers follow a chronic pattern of healing temporarily on their own and then returning. This might happen if the factors contributing to your ulcer, such as NSAID use, smoking and alcohol, are temporarily reduced and then resumed. You wont completely heal your ulcer until you eliminate the cause, whether that is chronic NSAID use, H. pylori infection or an overactive stomach. Even after successful treatment, you can get another ulcer.
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How Do You Know If You Have An Ulcer
You may not if the sore is just opening and youÃ¢re symptom-free, said Dr. Rajapaksa. But when an ulcer forms and deepens into the stomach lining, youÃ¢ll feel it, she says. Common symptoms include burning pain and nausea, even vomiting in some cases. Ã¢You may also feel a gnawing feeling of hunger,Ã¢ said Dr. Rajapaksa. Ã¢People with ulcers tend to feel a little bit better after they eat because food almost helps coat the stomach.Ã¢
If you notice these signs, Dr. Rajapaksa recommends seeing your healthcare provider a.s.a.p. Ã¢Certainly if youÃ¢re vomiting blood, I would hope that everyone knows to immediately go to the hospital,Ã¢ said Dr. Rajapaksa. Ã¢But even if youÃ¢re having other symptoms at home and you suspect you have an ulcer, I would suggest you get it diagnosed instead of trying to wait it out, or seeing if the pain goes away.Ã¢
According to the National Library of Medicine, your health care provider can check if you have an H. pylori infection by testing your blood, breath, or stool. Your provider also may look inside your stomach and duodenum by doing an endoscopy or x-ray. Though ulcers cannot be diagnosed with an x-ray test, the test may detect perforation due to an ulcer.
What Tests Diagnose A Peptic Ulcer
To confirm a person has an ulcer a diagnostic imaging test will usually be ordered. The two most widely used tests are:
- Upper GI series : This is a type of X-ray. The patient is given a chalky liquid to drink that increases the contrast on the X-ray, making certain features easier to see. Because this liquid contains barium, this test is sometimes called a barium swallow.
- Endoscopy : An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera at the end. The patient is given a mild sedative, and then the tube is passed through the mouth into the stomach. The doctor can see the lining of the stomach to diagnose a peptic ulcer. Tiny samples of the tissue will be taken , which are examined under a microscope.
If a diagnostic imaging test reveals an ulcer, the patient will most likely have a test to see if H pylori bacteria are present.
- It is important to be certain about this, because treatment of the H pylori is likely to heal the ulcer.
- Ulcers caused by H pylori are treated differently than ulcers caused by medications.
Three types of tests are available to detect H pylori.
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Can Stomach Ulcers Give You Acid Reflux
Thereâs a lot of confusion about the relationship between ulcers and acid reflux . Do ulcers cause acid reflux? Or does acid reflux cause ulcers?
Well, ulcers wonât give you reflux . However, chronic reflux can worsen or even cause ulcers.
Letâs get a little background here. An ulcer is a sore or hole in your digestive tract, while acid reflux is the term for your stomach acid flowing back up into your esophagus .
Acid reflux can be caused by a variety of factors, such as trigger foods, a hiatal hernia, or lifestyle risks like smoking or being overweight.
In contrast, according to the American College of Gastroenterology, the two most common causes of ulcers are a bacterium in the stomach called Helicobacter pylori , which can cause inflammation of the stomach lining that ultimately produces an ulcer, and a group of pain treatment medications called Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs , such as AdvilÂ®, AleveÂ®, and ibuprofen..
While chronic reflux isnât generally pointed to as one of the primary causes of ulcers, there definitely is a strong association between ulcers and GERD. One study found that nearly 50% of patients with an ulcer also had GERD. Thatâs because frequent backwards flow of acid can erode your esophagus or stomach lining â which doesnât do you any favors as far as ulcers are concerned.
How Are Stomach Ulcers Diagnosed
Diagnosis and treatment will depend on your symptoms and the severity of your ulcer. To diagnose a stomach ulcer, your doctor will review your medical history along with your symptoms and any prescription or over-the-counter medications youre taking.
To rule out H. pylori infection, a blood, stool, or breath test may be ordered. With a breath test, youll be instructed to drink a clear liquid and breathe into a bag, which is then sealed. If H. pylori is present, the breath sample will contain higher-than-normal levels of carbon dioxide.
Other tests and procedures used to diagnose stomach ulcers include:
- Barium swallow: You drink a thick white liquid that coats your upper gastrointestinal tract and helps your doctor see your stomach and small intestine on X-rays.
- Endoscopy : A thin, lighted tube is inserted through your mouth and into the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. This test is used to look for ulcers, bleeding, and any tissue that looks abnormal.
- Endoscopic biopsy: A piece of stomach tissue is removed so it can be analyzed in a lab.
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When To Seek Medical Attention
Most peptic ulcers are not a medical emergency and can be treated on an outpatient basis. But if there has been a perforation, severe internal bleeding, or obstruction, you’ll need to seek immediate medical care.
If left untreated, intestinal perforation and internal bleeding can lead to shock, coma, multiple organ failure, and death.
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Nausea and vomiting are also due to the inflammatory cascade that occurs as a result of the ulcers development, says Modi. The inflammation of the stomach lining itself causes intermittent contractions and if the muscles of the abdominal wall contract with enough force, it can cause full-on vomiting, says Rudolph Bedford, M.D., gastroenterologist at Providence Saint Johns Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
In some cases, these symptoms strike because the ulcer is causing a blockage in the stomach and food isnt able to pass easily into the small intestine. Your doctor can determine the exact cause of the ulcer and, most likely, treat it with antacid medicationsbut, if theres evidence of a blockage, youll be admitted to the hospital for further treatment, says Modi.
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Ulcers can bleed and cause vomitingparticularly, vomiting of blood or material that looks like coffee grounds , says Sophie Balzora, M.D., gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. Your poop may also become black in color, which, again, can be indicative of digested blood. Both are signs that require urgent and emergent medical attention, she says.
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