What are Peptic Ulcers?

Peptic ulcers are erosions found within the lining of the esophagus, stomach or small intestine. If the ulcer is in the stomach it is considered a gastric ulcer and if the ulcer is in the first part of the small intestine it is considered a duodenal ulcer.

Do I have a Peptic Ulcer?

The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is abdominal pain, typically with a burning quality. The burning abdominal pain usually reduces after taking anti-acid medications as they neutralize stomach acid prevent further irritation to the ulcerated areas. Duodenal ulcer pain is typically reduced when eating food while eating food exacerbates gastric ulcer pain. Signs that a peptic ulcer has become severe include vomiting blood, dark black or bloody stool, chronic nausea, and changes in appetite and weight loss.

If a peptic ulcer is suspected an endoscopic procedure may be done to visualize the esophagus, stomach and duodenum. This procedure is done by inserting a camera down the esophagus to more closely inspect the tissue. X-ray of the gastrointestinal tract can help to pinpoint ulcers. X-rays are performed after the patient drinks a chalky substance called barium to enhance any abnormalities. Often, diagnosis can of a peptic ulcer can be done after analysis of current symptoms and risk factors by your physician and endoscopy or x-ray may not necessary.

Causes

Bacterial
Helicobacter pylori, H. pylori, is a bacteria that can live in the lining of the stomach. It is thought to be contracted via water, food and close contact. Overuse of acid blocking medications could increase ones risk of contracting H. Pylori as they reduce the body’s natural defense from bacterial diseases. Many individuals have H. pylori in their stomach lining and never develop ulcer disease, however, for some it can increase your risk of developing a peptic ulcer. Testing can be done to determine whether H. pylori is present and eradication of the bacteria is necessary if an ulcer is present.

Antibiotics and acid blockers are the most common standard treatment for ridding the H. Pylori from the stomach lining. Naturally, there are anti-bacterial botanicals and buffering agents that can be used to rid the gut of H. pylori. Testing should be done following a treatment regimen to ensure eradication of the H. pylori, as it can be difficult to get rid of.

Medication induced
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications (NSAIDS) including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen and others are known to erode the lining of the stomach when abused and overused. Utilizing one or more of these medications on a regular basis increases your risk of peptic ulcer development. Other medications used to treat osteoporosis, called bisphosphinates, are also known for their ability to think the inner lining of the stomach.

Lifestyle
Alcohol is known to thin the lining of the stomach increasing the likelihood of ulcer development. Smoking cigarettes has been known to increase the risk of peptic ulcers, especially in those also infected with H. Pylori. High caffeine intake via coffee, chocolate and tea has been known to irritate the lining of the stomach and can increase the likelihood of ulcer disease.

Treatment

Treatment of known or suspected peptic ulcers depends on the cause. Removing gastric lining irritants, eradication of pathogenic bacteria and healing of the gastrointestinal lining all must be addressed to heal and prevent another peptic ulcer.

Avoid Gastric Irritants
Coffee, Chocolate, Peppermint, alcohol, spicy foods and high fat foods are known to further irritate and erode the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. While the ulcer is in its healing process, it is essential to remove all of the potential irritating foods to allow tissue to heal. Avoid supplementing with vitamin C while treatment for a peptic ulcer is underway as they can irritate an active ulcer. Avoid NSAID and Bisphosphinate Medications (medications for osteoporosis) when possible as they are known for the ulcer forming side effects. Ask your physician about alternatives for these medications.

Eradicate
If H. pylori is found in the stomach lining, removal via antibiotic medication or antibacterial herbal formulas is essential. Prevention of re-infection with H. pylori includes reducing the used of anti-acid medications as they reduce the natural acidity of the stomach, the bodies natural first line of defense against bacterial infections. Also, supplementation with appropriate forms of probiotics can help to prevent H. pylori from taking hold as they compete for nutrients and resources in the GI. It is also a good idea to supplement with probiotics after the use of antibiotics as they help to prevent H. pylori and other pathogenic bacteria from taking home in your gut.

Heal
Once an ulcer has started, there are many ways in which to heal the erosion. Demulcent herbal formulas, ones that coat and soothe mucous membranes including esophageal, gastric and duodenal linings, are a great place to start.

Glycyrrhica, black licorice root, Althea officinalis, marshmallow, Ulmus rubra, Slippery Elm are just a few botanicals known for their demulcent healing properties and their ability to heal wounds in the gastrointestinal tract. These herbs can be supplemented in the form of a tea, powders mixed in water, capsules or liquid herbal preparations.

While most peptic ulcers are caught early and treated accordingly, early evaluation and treatment of peptic ulcer symptoms is essential in fully recovering from an ulcer and preventing future ulcers.

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