peptic ulcer

Peptic ulcer, simply called as stomach ulcer, is a disease caused by the damage in lining of mucous membrane in the stomach or at the start of the small intestine called duodenum. Such breakage or damage in lining may also rarely occur at the lower esophagus. When ulcer occurs in the stomach it is called gastric ulcer and when it is in the small intestine, it is called duodenal ulcer.

What causes Peptic Ulcer?

No single cause can be attributed to the formation of ulcer. But, the bacteria helicobacter pylori (H.Pylori) is the major cause for peptic ulcer. H.pylori causes inflammation in the walls as they increase gastrin which produces gastric acid responsible for ulcer creation. Due to the infection caused by h.pylori, imbalance of the digestive fluids occur and consequently painful soars or ulcers in the stomach happens.

Besides h.pylori, other causes of peptic ulcer are use of drugs, smoking, drinking alcohol and similar life style habits, physiological stress and genetic factors.

Long time use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin or ibuprofen is also another known cause of peptic ulcer besides bacteria.

It needs to be understood that ulcer is not due to any diet but due to production of gastric acids which may vary from person to person even though same variety of food is consumed.

Digestive tract is coated with mucous layer which prevents stomach acid from damaging the stomach walls. But when the stomach acid produced is too much it decreases the mucous coat and causes ulcer. Erosion of the mucous membrane takes place over a period of time and breaks the tissues, turning into peptic ulcer.

Certain important factors that increase the risk of getting ulcer are consumption of alcohol, tobacco products, disorders in the kidney, liver and lungs, steroids and other medications. People with similar family history and people over 50 years of age are vulnerable to the disease.

Three fourths of the population suffering due to peptic ulcer do not have any symptom.

Symptoms of peptic ulcer

Ulcer is a self-curing disease without any treatment but the symptoms cannot be ignored as they may lead to serious complications at a later stage.

Some of the symptoms of peptic ulcer are,

  • Bloating, nausea or vomiting
  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • Gnawing pain or burning sensation in the upper or middle of the stomach either in between meals or during nights.
  • Satiation even on consumption of small quantity of food
  • Intolerance to fatty food
  • In severe cases the symptoms are bleeding while vomiting
  • darkening of stools due to bleeding
  • weight loss that cannot be explained and
  • Unbearable pain in the middle to upper abdomen. If night sleep is disturbed due to such pain it points to severe peptic ulcer.

Peptic ulcer is generally a mild medical condition needing no treatment but due to the discomfort experienced require some life style changes including dietary changes.

Diagnosis and treatment

Peptic ulcer is diagnosed by performing two different laboratory tests based on the symptoms noticed. The tests are upper endoscopy and gastrointestinal tests called GI series.

Upper endoscopy is recommended for patients who have difficulty in swallowing, gastrointestinal bleeding, and unexplained weight loss and stomach cancer.

GI series tests are undertaken in milder cases of peptic ulcer suspects by drinking barium liquid and taking x-ray of the stomach, esophagus and small intestine.


How to treat peptic ulcer?

Treatment of peptic ulcer involves neutralization of stomach acid.

Peptic ulcer is treated by administering antibiotics to kill the bacteria h.pylori. Proton pump inhibitors are used to reduce the production of stomach acid, as excess production of stomach acid is the cause for ulcer. Treatment may be required for about eight weeks to heal the ulcer.

Untreated peptic ulcer can lead to perforation of the stomach or intestine wall and intestine bleeding requiring immediate hospitalization. Sharp abdominal pain, fainting, blood vomiting and abdomen that is hard to touch are serious symptoms needing urgent treatment.

Natural remedies to treat peptic ulcer can also help reduce the symptoms and heal the irritation.

Peptic ulcers that do not heal even after treatment are called refractory ulcers which is due to

  • Far excess production of stomach acid
  • Presence of other diseases like stomach cancer
  • Ulcer is due to other bacteria different from h.pylori
  • Untested peptic ulcer can cause scar tissue which is hardening of the tissue due to injury to a person with ulcer. Due to development of scar tissue it becomes difficult for the food consumed to pass through the digestive tract causing vomiting and subsequent weight loss.

No treatment can prevent its recurrence. Hence even after the ulcer is healed one need to observe appropriate preventive measures to avoid recurrence.

Preventive measures to guard against formation of ulcers are:

  • Stopping or reducing alcohol and tobacco consumption
  • Consumption of healthy and balanced diet ( It is known that diet is not a cause for peptic ulcer but some diets may aggravate the symptoms)
  • Consumption of fruits and vegetables and whole grains
  • Avoiding consumption of spicy foods often.

Kripa Sivasubramanian, MBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. After a long stint in the Technology sector, she took up courses in natural medicine and yoga. Ms. Kripa is certified in Ayurvedic yoga for Dosha. She is also certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.