Frank Salvatore
Health and Lifestyle

Signs of an Ulcer

September 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The incidence of ulcers in Americans continues to stay steady, despite new studies, research, and treatments. Just under 7% of Americans have been diagnosed with ulcers.

While the latest drugs reduce the production of stomach acid, which reduces symptoms, these drugs have no effect on the underlying cause of the ulcer and possibly make it worse.

Here is some background on the anatomy of the digestive system and the different types of ulcers that may occur. This information will help you determine if you should see a doctor about your symptoms and what treatment options may be available.

The Digestive System

Food travels through the esophagus and lower esophageal sphincter before entering the stomach. From here, food flows into the small intestines through the duodenum. Here, the body is able to regulate how much food moves on from the stomach at one time. The stomach glands make enzymes to digest food and mucous to protect the stomach from these acids.

If you have an ulcer, the defense against the acid breaks down. The acid then forms sores on the lining of the duodenum or the stomach. Sometimes these peptic ulcers heal with time, but about one third of them cause dangerous complications.

Symptoms of an Ulcer

Depending on where the ulcer is located, the symptoms may vary. The severity of the ulcer also plays a role in its symptoms.

Most symptoms are experienced in the upper abdomen just under the sternum. These symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, heartburn, loss of appetite, burping, weight loss, full feeling, and pain in the middle or upper stomach, especially after eating fatty foods. Severe ulcers may cause the vomiting of blood, dark or black stool from bleeding, trouble breathing, and vomiting partially digested food.

Causes of Peptic Ulcers

Symptoms of an ulcer may resolve themselves when the triggering agent is removed. For example, discontinuing certain medications that impact the stomach lining and reducing its protection against acid. Some such medications include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin.

Excessive alcohol consumption may form an ulcer, as well as using tobacco and radiation treatments to the stomach. A gastrinoma, which is a tumor in the duodenum that secretes any excess of gastrin, may also lead to ulcers.

However, the most common cause of stomach ulcers is from an overgrowth of H. pylori, which are spiral-shaped bacteria growing in the digestive tract that tend to attack the stomach lining.

Although ulcers heal by reducing acid in the stomach, they often reappear because treatment did not bring down the level of H. pylori, or treat the body’s inflammatory response. This results in a chronic infection and inflammation. Proton pump inhibitors are able to reduce the acidity in the stomach, allowing bacteria to flourish.

The Importance of Stomach Acid

Stomach acid aids in digestion and the breakdown of food, as well as protects the body from bacterial growth. The stomach is highly acidic, but the acid level declines with age. The secondary effects of acid reduction may result in bacterial overgrowth, leading to the malabsorption of nutrients. Specifically, low stomach acid can lead to deficiencies in B12, iron, minerals, and the incomplete digestion of proteins.

Low stomach acid will also decrease resistance to infections. Because stomach acid kills harmful bacteria, it also prevents bacteria from growing in the intestinal tract that comes from the stomach. Changing the pH of the stomach by reducing the acid allows new bacteria to grow. Taking certain antacids may even reduce stomach acid as much as 95%, which increases your risk of gastrointestinal infections such as salmonella and listeria.

PPIs and H2 Blockers Only Treat Symptoms

PPIs and H2 Blockers initially reduce symptoms because they reduce the amount of stomach acid present, thus reducing the acidity affecting ulcers. However, this reduction in stomach acid also encourages the growth of bacteria. Also, when you discontinue anti-acid drugs, stomach acid will rise, creating more ulcers. Because of this, it is important to slowly cut down on antacids and not stop them abruptly.

Here are some methods used to determine if H. pylori is causing ulcers:

  • Carbon Isotope Urea Breath Test
  • Blood Test
  • Stool Test
  • Tissue Biopsy

Effective Treatments

If you test positive for H. pylori, you may choose to treat it with a combination of antibiotics for short term relief. However, for the long term, it is important to address the root of the problem.

Processed foods and sugars promote the growth of pathogenic microbes in the stomach. Eating whole, organic foods is important in the re-establishment of a healthy gut. Reduce the consumption of mints, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, and nicotine to let the gut heal.

It is also vital to add good bacteria back into the gut. Use either traditionally fermented foods or a probiotic supplement, which will naturally help reduce the growth of H. pylori in the gut.

Drink up to a gallon of clean water throughout the day. This will dilute stomach acid and relieve discomfort. Also, eat high quality omega-3 fats to improve the immune system.

Vitamin D also combats bacterial overgrowth in the body. This can be obtained through sun exposure or through the use of a supplement. Apple cider vinegar can also help to balance the acid in the gut. Take one tablespoon of raw, unfiltered ACV in a glass of water to decrease H. pylori growth. Ginger root is also an effective treatment of heartburn.

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Frank Salvatore