Can peptic ulcers lead to one’s death?

Thursday August 9 2012

By Dr. Vincent Karuhanga

Dear doctor, I am an artiste based in Kampala. Recently, a female singer died because of ulcers. Can ulcers kill so quickly when one has not had them before? Can milk, if given quickly, help the situation? Could it have been another issue that led to her death?

Dear Sarah, peptic ulcers are wounds in the gullet, stomach or the part of the intestines after the stomach (duodenum) and are mainly caused by a germ called Helicobacter Pylori and painkillers like Diclofenac and aspirin.

Apart from peptic ulcers, the germ risk one cancer of the stomach after long-term infection as such anyone with burning pain in the upper middle abdomen, among other symptoms, should be investigated for the germ. They should also avoid self-prescribing painkillers.

The pain may be increased by food (stomach ulcer) as one produces more acid to aid digestion and certain fruits immediately lead to serious pain.

Food may immediately relieve the pain if one has duodenal ulcers as the stomach closes off to digest food but pain may return after about two hours when acid-laden food is discharged into the duodenum.

When the stomach is completely empty of food, pain may also indicate ulcers. Many people benefit from taking milk to “dilute” the acid effect. The milk will not heal the ulcers but reduce pain. Ulcers require proper investigation and if the germ is found, treatment is prescribed together with changes in lifestyle advised to avoid complications.


Helicobacter may exist for many years without causing symptoms and many times the young and elderly may have ulcers without symptoms.

Peptic ulcers can lead to gastro-intestinal bleeding, which if sudden and serious (because of eating into a blood vessel), can cause imminent death.

The ulcer can also perforate through spilling stomach contents into the abdomen risking immediate death.

Many Ugandans are self prescribing painkillers risking complications of peptic ulcers if one has them (even when they are silent).Unfortunately, it may be worse if one has ulcer pain and then takes pain killers to quell the pain. Even without peptic ulcers, painkillers can cause bleeding ulcers.

Musicians have stressful lives, which on its own, can lead to peptic ulcers and with an associated issues leading to heavy intake of painkillers, thus one may suffer ulcer complications and immediate death.

Dear doctor, I have been taking soya for a long time until I was told that it causes impotence.
Bagunywa Tteke

Dear Bagunywa, though not many Ugandans consume soya or its products. Vegetarians usually look to it as a substitute for nutrients missed out in milk, eggs and meat and tend to take it in larger amounts.

Soya has substances called isoflavones, the main compound is Genistein ,which behaves like a female hormone oestrogen.

Genistein is said to reduce sperm motility in women affecting fertilisation so it is imperative that women should avoid soya around their most fertile days to aid conception.

Oestrogen is important for proper manufacture of sperms and together with testosterone, the male hormone, need to be in a certain balance for this to happen properly. Isoflavones in soya will upset the balance especially in obese men where the male hormones are already being converted into oestrogens in the immensely existing fat tissues.

Too much of female hormones in men has various effects. These include big breasts, low sex drive, erection problems and reduced sperm count. Theoretically, it could happen in a man with heavy soya intake. Many people consume lots of soya and do not get fertility problems. However, anybody with fertility challenges should desist from taking lots of soya. It is an important and nutritious food which should not be avoided but taken in moderation especially when a man is obese or has fertility problems.

Dear doctor, I have a problem of premature ejaculation. I last for only two minutes, I need help.

Dear Aroba, many men have had cases of this once in a while but if it becomes frequent, it may lead to both embarrassment and fear to fail sexually. This is apart from leaving the partner sexually unsatisfied.

When it becomes a habit for a man to ejaculate before he and his partner wishes to do so, this is called premature ejaculation. It is more common in men below 40 years of age.

Premature ejaculation can be primary, which is present from the time a male begins puberty, or it can be secondary, which is acquired later in life. Although men feel embarrassed to talk about it, premature ejaculation is a common and treatable condition. Medication, psychological counselling and sexual techniques that delay ejaculation are some of the ways that the problem can be handled. Also, circumcision has been touted as one of the ways to deal with it.

The causes include a complex interaction of both psychological and biological factors. This include the rush to reach climax to avoid being discovered, guilt feelings, erection problems so that one wants to get it done quickly before losing an erection, issues of anxiety in relationships, abnormal levels of sex and thyroid hormones, inflammation of the prostate, and withdrawal signs associated with alcohol and substance abuse. In many circumstances, the problem runs in families.

Dear doctor, I was told my brother had developed epilepsy. Is it possible for a 45-year-old man to get it? If it runs in the family, will I also get it?
Binshobeire Byona

Dear Binshobeire, what we tend to call epilepsy is when a person falls down, jerks or kicks uncontrollably, foams at the mouth or passes urine or stool. This is only one.

Epilepsy is a condition of the nervous system whereby a person may seem unaware of what is going on (lose consciousness) and make movements he has no control over (involuntary movements) after which one may feel tired, weak, or confused.

This is due to the brain’s normal electrical activity being disrupted causing a temporary communication problem between nerve cells. In partial epilepsy, particular parts of the body may be affected with one becoming “blank” and, in many without losing consciousness.

Having a single epilepsy-like attack does not always mean epilepsy since conditions like low blood sugar, dehydration or a high temperature can also trigger similar symptoms. However, repeated attacks usually mean epilepsy.

Many people develop epilepsy as children or teens and in some of these the attacks eventually become less frequent or disappear altogether. Others develop it later in life, including those in their 40s, especially related to brain injury like in traffic accidents, poisons or alcohol, or due to brain infections or tumours.

I cannot give you a ready answer as to whether you are likely to suffer from epilepsy in future given the many causes. But you need to live a healthy lifestyle; eat healthy (low fat, low salt, low sugar with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables), avoid smoking , and drink alcohol in moderation.

Dear doctor, I am deeply worried about my excreta. It is black in colour but I do not feel pain anywhere. I do not eat atapa or even soil, what could be the problem.
James Olupot

Dear James, much as people worry about their stool being black, the cause may be as harmless as having eaten certain foods or taken iron supplements for lack of blood (anaemia).

Bleeding from the nose and or swallowing blood, bleeding in the alimentary canal (stomach and intestines) and that blood then undergoing digestion can lead to dark stools.

A bleeding peptic ulcer or forceful vomiting or bleeding from the gullet due to a sick liver and high blood pressure in the liver blood vessels can lead to excrement of black stool.

Black stool from blood is called maleana and from food supplements or foods like karo (atapa) is called false maleana. If one has black stools, which is not due to food or to iron supplements, he or she has to see a doctor as soon as possible for tests including x-rays, endoscopy, colonoscopy and general tests including for anaemia.

This should be done even if one has no other symptoms such as vomiting or acute abdominal pain.

Dear doctor, almost everybody teases me about my weight. I have tried so many things but they have not helped. My last resort is now lemon. Will it help?
Venance Opio

Dear Venance, many Ugandans are taking lemon for reasons like to lose weight, a common cold or even healing of wounds. Here the chief lemon ingredient thought to be a panacea to all the said conditions is vitamin C.Since it is also thought that the more bitter the pill the more medicinal value, the bitterness in lemon then is confirmatory to the medicinal value rumours. Lemon as a fruit is a good source of vitamin c important in balancing ones diet and if one shows signs of vitamin C deficiency is likely to be of medicinal value.. Whereas ones weight may be in his genes, too much food intake especially when it is fatty, coupled with sedentary lifestyle are responsible for much of the obesity in Uganda that has now assumed epidemic proportions. Therefore eating less especially of fatty and sweet foods and exercise whose regimen can be properly advised by your doctor is likely.

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