An ulcer is an irritated and painful sore caused by an erosion of the tissue in the digestive tract. There are different forms of stomach and intestinal ulcers; it all depends on the location of the ulcer. The most common location for an ulcer to occur is the upper digestive tract at the beginning of the small intestine, called the duodenum. Other areas can be in the stomach lining, the esophagus, or throughout the intestinal tract.
The pain associated with an ulcer is a gnawing, burning and sharp pain that can occur from below the throat to mid abdomen.
- An esophageal ulcer, those that are located in the esophagus, throat to the sternum, can produce pain upon eating or drinking certain foods.
- A gastric ulcer, often located on the right side of the stomach, can cause pain upon eating or drinking certain foods.
- A duodenal ulcer, is located at the upper digestive tract directly below the stomach, this can cause pain one to two hours after eating.
Other symptoms can be:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Waking in the night with stomach pain.
- The abdominal area feeling sensitive or tender to the touch.
- Blood in the stool, which usually shows as dark or black stool.
- Pain that is relieved when eating, although may be followed by pain, yet irritation can also occur.
- Weight loss without trying.
- Repetitive burping or hiccupping.
For a long time doctors thought that ulcers were caused by stress and acidic foods. While these two causes definitely play there part in aggravating the ulcer, recently a new cause has been discovered, Helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori). This bacteria is surprisingly present in a vast majority of people. This bacteria imbeds itself in the protective layer of the stomach lining and once it does it exposes the soft tissue. The bacteria then weakens the lining of the soft tissue. Once the tissue is exposed, the acid and bacteria team up to eat away at the tissue and this causes the ulcer. To add insult to injury, this bacteria raises the acid level that your body naturally produces.
H. pylori is very prevalent in our society and the world. In the United States, people over the age of 50 have a 50% chance of being infected by this bacteria. In third world countries, the chances are much greater. It is thought that the infection can be contracted from food and water, although it may also be from close contact and sharing saliva. Because research has just recently discovered this and the cause is still unknown it is hard to say how to avoid this infection. Interestingly enough, not all people who have H. pylori in their body will get an ulcer.
The other well known causes of ulcers are certain foods and beverages, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDS, smoking, severe and chronic stress, and alcoholism. All of these cause the same outcome, a raised acidic level in your digestive system and increased risk for ulcers.
If you have an ulcer these foods and beverages can trigger the pain in the stomach. These items are:
- Regular or decaffeinated coffee
- Sodas and other caffeine drinks
- Spices; black pepper, cayenne, nutmeg
Smoking and drinking alcohol is very detrimental if you have an ulcer. Smoking causes your stomach to produce more acid than usual to process the nicotine. Drinking alcohol continuously over extended periods can progressively weaken the linings of the stomach and intestinal walls.
NSAIDS are anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin. For people who have to take these drugs continuously, as with arthritic conditions, the medicine will break down the protective lining of the soft tissue walls.
Stress has always laid claim to causing ulcers. Now we know that severe stress of an emotional and physical nature can directly cause an ulcer. As in, a medical condition that limits food consumption, this allows the acid to sit in the stomach and erode the lining. Research is still being done on the direct affect of emotional stress.
Preventing & Treating Ulcers
The most common way of easing the pain caused by an ulcer is with antacids or prescription medicines. These may be helpful for the short term, but they do not heal the ulcer. The best ways of healing an ulcer are with prevention and avoidance. You can avoid the foods that cause a reaction, a food allergy test may be of benefit when identifying what these are. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol or caffeine related drinks. If possible try to avoid NSAIDS.
Proactively seek a stress management plan like an online Stress Solution Tool (SST). Stress has numerous deleterious effects including promoting inflammation, increasing susceptibility to illness, and contributing to fatigue and lack of mental focus. Addressing stress is critical if you are serious about creating a strong health foundation for longevity, wellness, and improved quality of life. The SST was created to help you in discovering hidden and unrealized areas of stress that may be robbing your health and quality of life. The SST report will also provide you with suggestions and a way of formulating your stress management plan.
Every person needs to incorporate fiber into their diet. People with ulcers have been shown to greatly benefit from high-fiber diets as opposed to low-fiber diets. Foods that contain high-fiber content are split peas, lentils, raspberries, broccoli, and 100% whole-wheat products. If you generally do not consume your daily requirements of vegetables and legumes (beans), then you may want to consider taking a fiber supplement. These fibers are helpful in this healing process; psyllium, guar gum, and pectin.
If you have avoided the foods that trigger the pain from an ulcer and you want more options, try looking into an alkaline diet. This diet promotes a less acidic environment. The alkaline diet focuses on foods that can produce a calming affect on the digestive system.
Keeping hydrated is critical when you have an ulcer. Clean, clear water can dilute your gastric juices. It can also help flush the body of built up toxins and pollutants.
An ulcer can occur at any location throughout the GI Tract. It is a sore or eroded part of the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, or lower intestines. A new cause has been indicated as a bacterial invader that allows the acid level in the stomach to deteriorate the walls. Other causes of an ulcer are smoking, alcohol, long periods of not eating, NSAIDS, and dehydration. If you have an ulcer the best way to handle it is to avoid foods and beverages that trigger the pain. Also, avoiding chronic stress and dehydration while eating a high-fiber diet will greatly improve your ulcer prevention plan.
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