A gastric or stomach ulcer is an area in the lining of the stomach muscle that has become eroded or raw. It is estimated that approximately ten percent of the world’s population will at some time in their lives develop a gastric ulcer. Gastric ulcers develop when acids and digestive juices in the stomach cause damage or injury to the lining of protective mucus around the inside of the stomach. Those taking anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen, aspirin and ibuprofen are very likely to develop gastric ulcers as are those who smoke, drink alcohol regularly, consume high levels of caffeine on a regular basis and those who deal regularly with high levels of stress.
Gastric ulcer symptoms may include frequent heartburn and/or indigestion. Patients with gastric ulcers may also experience bouts of nausea and a significant loss of appetite, weight loss and gastrointestinal bleeding. Many patients with gastric ulcers experience nights of sleeplessness or periods of being awakened at night by pain in the stomach area. Some patients may experience pain for weeks and then have long periods without any symptoms. Pain and discomfort may be alleviated by taking antacids, but the symptoms typically return shortly after and may get worse within an hour or two after eating. Gastric ulcer symptoms in patients who have bleeding ulcers may be much more intense and may include vomiting bright red blood and/or black or tarry bowel movements due to digesting blood.
In order for a physician to diagnose a gastric ulcer, many tests must be administered and the patient’s medical history will need to be checked. Males, those over the age of 45, anemia, regular use of NSAIDs, a history of alcohol use and smoking and a family history of stomach cancer and/or stomach ulcers are risk indicators for this condition. Your physician will look at the potential risks associated with the development of gastric ulcers to determine if you are at a higher risk than other patients. An endoscopy and other imaging tests may also be done to determine if a gastric ulcer is present. An endoscopy is a very thorough test and is considered to be the best method for diagnosing this condition. It involves a slender instrument that is inserted into the stomach area allowing the physician to view the duodenum and the lining of the stomach.
Since H. pylori are also linked to causing gastric ulcers, the physician may also test for the presence of these bacteria. This is typically done in patients who have no history of taking NSAIDs or anti-inflammatory medications. A blood test may also be administered to determine whether or not the patient suffers from anemia.
Treatment for gastric ulcers typically includes prescription medications that lower stomach acid secretion rates and help to protect the lining of the stomach. There are also surgical treatments available for those with severe conditions or patients that may be at risk for certain complications such as hemorrhaging, scarring that will prevent food to properly pass through the stomach and perforations of the stomach wall. Treatment to eliminate H. pylori may also be needed in order to prevent future development of gastric ulcers. Without treating the cause, most patients will have a recurrence within as little as one year.
There are also many lifestyle changes that a patient can implement to prevent the recurrence of gastric ulcers. Avoiding the use of NSAIDS and aspirin, particularly when they are not needed as well as giving up drinking and smoking and beverages that contain caffeine can help to prevent the recurrence of this condition. Eating a well-balanced diet, learning how to effectively manage stress and regular exercise may also help as well as getting plenty of sleep every night. Those who experience gastric ulcer symptoms should report them to a physician right away to cut down on the potential complications that are possible with the condition. If you have experienced burning in and around the stomach area or regular heartburn or indigestion that happens several times per week, you should report these symptoms to your doctor as soon as possible. If you have been vomiting blood or noticed a black, tarry bowel movement, you should seek medical help right away as these are also symptoms of more serious conditions.