What is an Ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is a painful open sore located on the inner tissue of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine. It is created when acid, commonly produced by the digestive tract, is able to get through the protective lining of the upper gastrointestinal tract, eroding the tender digestive tissues below. If the sores become deep enough, they can bleed.

Peptic ulcers occurring in the esophagus are called esophageal ulcers. Likewise, peptic ulcers found in the upper portion of the small intestine - the duodenum - are labeled duodenal ulcers.


What Causes a Peptic Ulcer?

Contrary to popular belief, diet and/or stress do not create ulcers. However, once an ulcer has formed, they can certainly exacerbate the problem. There are two specific agents that cause the formation of peptic ulcers.

H. Pylori

The the most common cause of ulcers is a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, (H. pylori). It is corkscrew shaped bacterium that usually lives an incognito existence in the mucous membrane protecting the inner layers of the upper digestive tract. However, sometimes the bacteria multiply and cause a disruption to the protective mucous layer. Once the mucous layer has been diminished, H.pylori irritates the stomach and small intestinal tissues, which allows digestive acids to permeate to the tender tissues below.

Scientists aren't sure where the bacteria come from. It may be that they spread from person to person via kissing or shared food and beverages. It may also be present in food and/or water sources.

Medications/Pain Relievers

Consistent use of many over-the-counter pain relievers can also trigger the onset of an ulcer. Over time, these medications cause inflammation and/or irritation to the stomach lining. Once the lining is compromised, digestive acid is able to eat through to the tissue and form an ulcer. Medications associated with the formation of ulcers include:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (the active ingredient in Motrin and Advil, among others)
  • Naproxen (found in products like Aleve and Anaprox)
  • Ketoprofen
  • Biphosphonates, used to treat osteoporosis (examples include Fosamax and Actonel)

It can take years for these medications to take their toll on the stomach lining. Anyone who takes these types of OTC medications should try to take pain relievers with meals, which helps to prevent their negative effect on the stomach lining.

Acetaminophen is not responsible for causing ulcers, however long-term use can cause liver damage. Anyone considering switching medications should always consult their healthcare practitioner first.

Symptoms of an Ulcer

  • Pain. This is the most common symptom and can be experienced from the breastbone to the navel. It is usually the most prevalent when the stomach is empty and at night. It flares up when acid levels are higher than normal. Acid reducing medications may relieve symptoms temporarily but eventually they will flare back up.

  • Bleeding. If ulcers bleed, patients may have blood in their vomit or their stool. The blood will appear red or black.

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Nausea/Vomiting

  • Lack of appetite

Can Ulcers Be Treated?

Ulcers can be treated in a number of different ways. Looking at diet and lifestyle is usually the first step in finding a treatment plan that will heal the ulcer and provide relief.

Smoking, stress, and alcohol consumption are also contributing factors. They can throw the body's chemical balance out of whack, allowing H. pylori, and/or other medications to do more damage than they would have otherwise. Diet and lifestyle changes can play an important role in reducing one's chances of developing an ulcer.

Patients Medical's holistic medical doctors will evaluate your digestive tract health and run tests for any imbalances that may be present. They may test for food allergies and intolerances as well as other underlying causes of the ulcer. Once they determine the root cause, they will recommend an appropriate protocol, taking into account conventional and holistic treatments and offering you the best solution.

Begin Your Journey to Wellness with Patients Medical

Our job at Patients Medical is to listen, to connect the dots between a patient's medical history, symptoms, and their underlying causes. Patients Medical is a superb place for women and men to secure integrative and holistic health care from providers who give personalized care, partner with the patient to focus on the root cause of their illness, support their recovery, and help them maintain good health.

To make an appointment with one of our physicians, please call us at 1-212-794-8800. We look forward to hearing from you.

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