What you need to know:
- Complications from stomach ulcers are relatively uncommon but they can be serious and potentially life threatening.
Stomach ulcers, also called gastric ulcers, are open sores that develop on the lining of the stomach or the intestine just beyond the stomach. They are caused by two main factors:
Some prescription drugs
Another major cause of stomach ulcers are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs include, ibuprofen and aspirin, particularly if they are taken for a long time or in high doses. These too can break down the stomach's defense against the acid it produces to digest food. The stomach lining then becomes damaged, causing an ulcer to form.
While the most common symptom of stomach ulcers is a burning pain in the tummy, not all stomach ulcers are painful. Some people experience indigestion, heartburn and nausea, among other symptoms. These are usually a red flag for one to suspect that they might have stomach ulcers. Doctor Blessing says if these symptoms persist, this is the time to go see a doctor for medical attention because not doing so only makes matters worse.
“If you take long without taking the right medication to stabilise the condition, or the right advice to control it, then you run the risk of developing severe symptoms,” he says.
Some of the severe symptoms include vomiting blood which may appear bright red or have a dark brown, grainy appearance, passing fresh blood in your stool, passing dark, sticky, tar-like stool and a sudden, sharp pain in your tummy that gets steadily worse.
Dr Blessing says tests are carried out to determine whether the ulcers were caused by bacteria or drugs. Once this is ascertained, the course of treatment is determined. One will be treated using antibiotics if the ulcer was caused by a H. pylori infection. The medicine will kill the bacteria and prevent a reoccurrence.
“Stomach ulcers can be eliminated depending on the stage of the condition. But most importantly, lifestyle or behaviour change or change of eating habits will go a long way in helping eliminate the ulcers,” Dr Blessing says.
According to Dr Blessing, if the condition was caused by drugs such as NSAIDS: “The patient will be given protein pump inhibitors (PPI) to stop the secretion of acids from the walls of the stomach. One will also be given anti-acid drugs such as magnesium, which neutralises the acid.”
Also, alternative medication to NSAIDs, such as paracetamol, may be recommended. Experts assert that most stomach ulcers take a few months to heal after treatment. They, however, warn that stomach ulcers can reoccur after treatment, although this is less likely to happen if the underlying cause is addressed.
There is a good reason why many people do not think stomach ulcers are a serious medical condition; the fact that they are mostly not life-threatening. However, what most people do not know is that they can cause permanent damage to one’s body if they are not treated. Dr Blessing says there are a number of simple remedies that can help subdue the symptoms.
“Most of us know that we have ulcers when the symptoms are already advanced; when we already have wounds, gas build-up and acids mixing with alkaline, among other symptoms. Once we ascertain that a patient has stomach ulcers, we advise them to reduce the amount of spices in their food. One should also avoid acidic and oily foods since fats require acids to break them up, yet we are trying to keep acid secretion at bay,” Dr Blessing says.
Experts say the ideal diet for a person with ulcers is proteins such as meat and fish since they help heal the wounds.
Doctors advise one with ulcers to avoid consuming alcohol since it is a dehydrating agent, which causes cell death and delays the healing process of ulcers. Alcohol is also one of the causes of peptic ulcers in healthy individuals.
Some studies have linked increased levels of stress hormones to peptic ulcer development and poor healing of ulcers. Therefore, doing things that take away stress such as exercising is recommended.
Foods to consider
Bananas: Bananas are known to promote cell growth in the intestinal tract, which ultimately heals ulcers. They also increase mucus secretion in the digestive tract, which prevent stomach acids from eroding the bare stomach walls.
Honey: The curative properties of honey cannot be underestimated. Its property to treat peptic ulcers is primarily attributed to the presence of glucose oxidase, an enzyme that increases the production of hydrogen peroxide and ultimately kills all harmful bacteria, causing peptic ulcers.
Cabbage: Studies have shown that cabbage juice can effectively treat ulcers more than 92 percent of the times. Consumption of cabbage increases the level of vitamin C, which usually tends to be low in gastric juices of patients with peptic ulcers.
Vitamin E rich foods: Foods rich in vitamin E, including squash, pumpkin, olive oil, fish and spinach, among others have the ability to heal ulcers quickly. One study showed that patients who were given 300 grammes of vitamin E daily were relieved of the symptoms within a period of four to six days.
Fibre-rich foods: Those suffering from recurring peptic ulcers should make it a point to eat enough fibre-rich foods such as leafy vegetables and citrus fruits every day. Processed products such as white flour will deprive your body of protein and fibre, increasing stomach acid production.