Stomach ulcer is an injured spot (often about 30 mm in diameter) on the stomach mucosa. The exact cause of stomach ulcers is not known; it does not appear to be closely related to the excessive formation of gastric acid.
However, there is evidence that irritation of the stomach mucosa due to regurgitation of the bile duct from the duodenum may sometimes be a factor that contributes to the development of an ulcer (stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers are sometimes referred to as peptic ulcers).
The main symptom are blunt, “firing” pains that usually occur in the upper abdominal cavity, though they are sometimes limited to the chest. The pain lasts from 30 minutes to three hours. They usually occur and disappear, so the weeks with frequent pains alternate with short periods without a pain. Although pain and eating are commonly associated, the nature of this relationship is unpredictable; the pain may occur immediately after eating but also several hours later. Other possible symptoms include loss of appetite (and therefore weight), and periodic vomiting of acidic fluid (which almost always relieves the pain).
According to estimates, in developed countries, peptic ulcer (stomach or duodenum ulcer) affects 1 in 5 men and 1 in 10 women. The stomach ulcer is equally present in both sexes. The likelihood that you will get an ulcer will greatly increase if you smoke or drink a lot, if you eat irregularly or hurriedly, if you are taking large amounts of aspirin-related pain medications, if you are oler, and if you are doing some physical work.
Bleeding of the stomach ulcer is not frequent, but it can be dangerous, especially in the elderly. A sudden, severe bleeding can cause shock; less severe bleeding, if it lasts for a few months and is not discovered, can cause anemia. An ulcer can also (although this danger is almost insignificant) perforate the wall of the stomach. If the stomach ulcer is not treated a serious weight loss can occur, and poor nutrition due to lack of appetite exposes the body to the risk of infection. The common occurrence of stomach ulcer may cause (though rarely) and pyloric stenosis; malignant changes, i.e. development of stomach cancer, are also possible.
What to do?
If the pain lasts longer than two or three weeks, contact your doctor. In order to determine if you have an ulcer and whether it is in the stomach or in the duodenum, your doctor will send you to the endoscopy and / or the barium test. Blood tests may also be required, as well as taking samples of gastric juice (for acid testing) and laboratory examination of the stool (to determine possible internal bleeding).
Self-help: the stomach ulcer will often be completely cured if you stay in bed for about two weeks, eat often and little, take antacid tablets (which you can buy without a prescription) to ease the pain and if you do not smoke. If the symptoms are not so strong that you would require bedding, try to eat a little, avoid alcohol, caffeine (in coffee and tea) and tobacco, and rest as much as you can or sleep. If the pain stop and no longer occurs, you do not have to worry anymore. However, if the pain won’t go away, contact your doctor.
Professional help: the doctor will update the recommended self-help measures by prescribing a medicine that will speed up the healing process. Since about 40% of peptic ulcer cases are cured without treatment, or only with the described self-help meaasures, there may be no need for any further therapy. However, about 45% of the seemingly cured ulcers are coming back again after several years, so your doctor will probably want to examine you again. If an ulcer does not disappear after six to eight weeks of drug therapy, or it is cured only temporarily, surgery may be required. Healing is generally achieved by removing the small part of the stomach in which an ulcer is present.
Chances of healing without a surgical procedure are excellent if the treatment begins early, if the patient takes the medication exactly according to the doctor’s instructions, if he eats and drinks moderately and does not smoke. Surgical precedure – whether it is perforation, bleeding or persistent ulcer – is not dangerous, except in the elderly. In most operative cases, healing is complete and permanent.