What is a Gastric Ulcer?
A gastric ulcer, also referred to as a stomach ulcer, is a break or raw, eroded area in the normal tissue lining of the stomach. People often believe that a gastric ulcer is the result of too much acid in the stomach. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and people with gastric ulcers do produce normal amounts of acid. It depends on how well the lining of the stomach copes with the acid because the stomach makes chemicals and mucus which covers the surface and protects the tissues from the acid.
Gastric ulcers are extremely common and affect about two percent of the adult population in the United States. They are most common in older men between the ages of 55 and 70.
Diagnosing Gastric Ulcers
The diagnosis of a gastric ulcer is based on a physical examination, symptoms and medical history of the individual. Risk factors such as male sex, age, use of NSAIDs, history of excessive use of alcohol and smoking as well as the family history of ulcers will be taken into account. Additional tests such as an EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy) and biopsy will show a benign gastric ulcer. To check for a gastric ulcer, an upper GI series test will be performed.
What Causes Gastric Ulcers?
A gastric ulcer is caused by an imbalance between the stomach acids and digestive juices which injures the protective mucus of the stomach lining. Gastric ulcers usually develop as a result of the use of aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.
The presence of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori), disorders that create over secretion of stomach juices, certain types of medication and an excessive intake of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine can also cause gastric ulcers. Many people experience periods of chronic ulcer pain alternating with symptom-free periods that may last for many weeks or even months.
Risk factors for gastric ulcers
The risk factors for gastric ulcers include:
- Use of anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen
- Chronic gastritis
- Certain blood clotting problems
- Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) infection
- Mechanical ventilation
Symptoms of a gastric ulcer
The symptoms and signs of a gastric ulcer include:
Help for Gastric Ulcers
A gastric ulcer may be treated with prescription drugs that will reduce the stomach acid secretion and protect the mucus tissue that lines the stomach. Treatment may also be recommended to remove H.pylori bacteria in order to avoid further recurrences of an ulcer. In cases where complications such as hemorrhaging or perforation of the stomach wall may occur, surgery is required.
Several lifestyle changes can benefit the individual with gastric ulcers to prevent a recurrence, and they include:
- Eat several, small nutritious meals a day at regular time intervals
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid unnecessary use of aspirin and NSAIDs
- Reduce your intake of coffee, tea and caffeinated beverages
- Stop smoking
- Reduce your intake of alcohol
Natural and holistic treatments are also highly effective in the prevention of stomach flare ups and digestion problems. While many synthetic and prescription drugs provide symptomatic relief, they also have harsh side effects. Herbal and homeopathic remedies, on the other hand, are gentle on the body’s systems without any side effects.
Herbs such as Matricaria recutita, (German Chamomile) contain anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and calming properties which are excellent for digestive disorders. Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet) is an anti-inflammatory, soothing digestive remedy which helps to reduce the pain of digestive disorders and ulcers. Ulmus fulva (Slippery Elm) is an extremely effective herb used in reducing digestive pain and irritation while also protecting and soothing the lining of the stomach and digestive tract. In addition, Sutherlandia frutescens (Cancer Bush) has been used for thousands of years to treat chronic and acute digestive complaints, internal cancer and also acts as a powerful tonic.