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A stomach or duodenal ulcer, otherwise known as a peptic ulcer, is essentially an open and sometimes bleeding sore that forms when the inner lining of the stomach or duodenum ruptures. The lining is weakened when digestive acids break down the protective barrier. This causes significant burning abdominal pain that can last for days, weeks or even months at a time. This becomes worse when the stomach is empty. Antacids will sometimes give a brief respite or eating foods that are gentle on the stomach. However, ulcers will often return even after they have healed if the patient hasn’t sought medical attention.
There are two different types of peptic ulcers; gastric, which occur in the stomach, and duodenal, which occur in the small intestine. Most peptic ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria. Most people have this bacteria in the protective lining of the stomach wall and small intestine. The bacteria can often inflame the inner layer of the stomach and small intestine, which causes ulcers. Another cause of peptic ulcers is the frequent use of certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) pain relief medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. A common misconception is that ulcers are developed from stress, spicy food, alcohol, or smoking cigarettes. These lifestyle choices don’t develop ulcers but can aggravate an existing ulcer, or prevent one from healing.
To treat ulcers, it’s essential to diagnose what is causing them. For example, if a physician discovers that the patient does have Helicobacter pylori bacteria in their digestive tract (via lab test), they can prescribe an antibiotic. This will kill the bacteria and cure the ulcers.
If the ulcer is caused by NSAIDs, the physician will likely recommend that the patient switches medications. If the patient can’t discontinue use of the NSAID, there are ways of mitigating their effect on the digestive system, such as taking them in small doses or always taking them at mealtimes.
In addition to these treatments, it is usually necessary to control stomach acid for the existing ulcer to heal. Physicians will frequently prescribe protein pump inhibitors, which limit or block the production of stomach acid. A healthy diet and lifestyle choices that avoid exacerbating the ulcers are usually encouraged as well. This can be as simple as getting a sufficient amount of sleep consistently.
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