When most people refer to stomach ulcers they are referring to both gastric ulcers which can form in the stomach itself and to duodenal ulcers which can form in the first twelve inches of the small intestine that leads out of the bottom portion of the stomach. An ulcer is an area of the lining of either the stomach or the small intestine that has eroded or worn away and is raw and irritated. These ulcers are very common problems affecting millions of people every year. Stomach ulcers can affect both adults and children alike.
What symptoms would lead a person to believe that they might have stomach ulcers? The most common symptom of this disease is a burning or gnawing feeling in the pit of the stomach. Some people feel it in the upper abdominal area but it can be felt in the chest as well. This can be mistaken for indigestion as well. The pain in the abdomen or chest can happen right after eating a meal or snack. It can also happen up to several hours after eating food. A common complaint that goes along with stomach ulcers is abdominal pain in the middle of the night. Decreased appetite, nausea, some weight loss and occasional vomiting may occur. If the ulcer is severe bloody emesis, blood in the stool or black tarry type stools may be present as well.
So what causes stomach ulcers? There are several culprits of this disease process. Higher than usual levels of stomach acids are usually present for the erosion of the stomach lining to start eroding which is what causes an ulcer to form. Hydrochloric acid is present in the stomach to help digest the food that we eat however if there is more acid than is necessary for digestion it can lead to damage of the lining of the stomach, intestine and even the esophagus in cases that where acid reflux is present.
One of the biggest causes of stomach ulcers is a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. This bacteria is transmitted through food and water that has been contaminated. It can also be transmitted from one person to another. If Helicobacter pylori is the reason behind a stomach ulcer antibiotic therapy is necessary for successful treatment of the ulcer. Other causes of stomach ulcers are excessive gastric acid production, genetic predisposition and having excessive stress in a person’s life. All of these conditions can lead to the formation of a stomach ulcer. There are medications that can be given to reduce the amount of gastric acid that is produced or to counteract it in the stomach and intestines.
Some complications that can occur with stomach ulcers are when the erosion becomes severe enough to involve a blood vessel in the stomach or intestinal lining. Bleeding can then occur. Hemorrhage through the stomach and intestines can constitute a medical emergency if not remedied. The symptoms of this are bloody emesis, blood in the stool or black tarry stools. If enough blood is lost anemia can occur. If a large volume of blood is lost shock and even death can occur if the hemorrhage is not stopped. Treatment for this condition is usually surgical intervention to stop the bleeding while replacing the lost volume of blood.
Other complications that can occur from a stomach ulcer include peritonitis can set up if the erosion is severe enough to cause a tear in the intestinal or stomach lining. Another complication that can occur is that an intestinal obstruction can occur if scar tissue is allowed to form or digested food is unable to pass through the intestines due to the ulcer formation. Both of these complications will require surgical intervention to repair the damage due to the ulcer.