The Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Peptic Ulcers

A peptic or gastric ulcer is a sore that forms in the stomach or the lining of the small intestine. The sore can be painful and may sometimes cause bleeding, hyperacidity and indigestion.

Types and Causes of Peptic Ulcers

There are two types of peptic ulcers: gastric ulcers that form in the lining of the stomach and duodenal ulcers that are found in the lining of the upper region of the small intestine. The main difference seen between the two is the occurrence of pain — gastric ulcers could act up during a meal, while pain caused by duodenal ulcers may occur between meals.

The food we ingest is digested in the stomach with the help of acids and pepsin. The sticky layer of mucus, covering the lining, protects the stomach from these acids, but when the lining is damaged, the stomach tissue becomes inflamed, leading to the formation of ulcers.

The main causes of peptic ulcers are:

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection in the stomach lining
  • Regular use of painkillers like ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Increased acid production from a tumor in the duodenum or pancreas

Symptoms and Treatment of Peptic Ulcers

A mild form of a peptic ulcer may not cause any significant symptoms and may even heal on its own. But when the ulcers are more severe, they could cause:

Symptoms of advanced stages can include:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stools or black tarry stools
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty in swallowing food

The characteristic symptoms of peptic ulcers and certain tests help with the diagnosis of the condition. These tests include:

Blood Tests:

To check for the presence of antibodies like H. pylori

Urea Breath Test:

A breath analyzer senses the carbon exhaled due to the increased activity of the H. pylori in the stomach lining.

Stool Antigen Testing:

An immunological test that looks for the presence of H. pylori with the help of specific antibodies.

Endoscopy: 

Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy or gastroscopy helps in the direct visualization of the esophageal, stomach and duodenal linings for the presence of ulcers.

Biopsy:

This may help rule out the presence of abnormal cancer cells

Narrow-Band Imaging:

An endoscopic technique incorporated during gastroscopy to check a lesion that could be malignant or pre-malignant. It uses special filters and magnifying methods to diagnose malignancy.

Treatment and Prevention of Ulcers

Various medications may be prescribed to manage the pain and symptoms associated with peptic ulcers.

Prescribed medications include:

  • Antacids
  • H2 antagonists
  • Sucralfate
  • Antibiotics like amoxicillin and metronidazole
  • Proton pump inhibitors like omeprazole and lansoprazole
  • Prostaglandin analog
  • Endoscopy with injection and thermal coagulation

Surgery may be required for individuals who do not respond to medications.

Some alternative options include:

Ayurveda:

According to Ayurveda, most ulcers are caused by Vata and Pitta, two of the humors of the body. These medicines focus on decreasing acid secretions and rebuilding the mucus lining to reduce the intensity of the ulcer.

Homeopathy:

The treatment targets the root cause and helps enhance the body’s healing capacity. It may help prevent complications and recurrence too. Homeopathic medicines commonly used for peptic ulcers are belladonna, borax and dulcamara.

Herbs:

Various herbs like ginseng root, licorice, aloe vera, slippery elm bark and ginger may help relieve peptic ulcers. Ginseng may inhibit the growth of H. pylori, while licorice can protect against stomach damage from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

A few simple lifestyle changes may help manage the symptoms associated with a peptic ulcer. You could also focus on avoiding the indiscriminate use of NSAIDs, quit smoking and limit the intake of alcohol to reduce the symptoms or even prevent the development of peptic ulcers.

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