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What is a gastric ulcer?

Gastric (stomach) ulcer is defined as a break in the continuity of the internal lining of the stomach.

There is quite a remarkable amount of acid in the stomach. This acid helps in the digestion of the food and is very important. The inner lining of the stomach functions as a barrier between the stomach and the acid. It prevents the stomach walls from being damaged due to the acidic PH of the stomach. Due to some reasons, this layer may rupture which may result in abdominal pain and even internal bleeding.

Causes of gastric ulcers

For years, excess acid in the stomach was thought to be the major cause of gastric ulcers. However, researchers now believe that there are two main causes of gastric ulcers:

  • Helicobacter Pylori (Bacteria)

  • Long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These are the two main causes of gastric ulcers, but it should be kept mind that raised levels of gastric acid make the patient prone to develop gastric ulcers.

Stress is also known to be a cause of gastric ulcers but this idea is still controversial.

Signs and symptoms of gastric ulcers

Gastric ulcers can be acute or chronic. Acute gastric ulcers present with acute symptoms that may occur within minutes. On the other hand, a chronic gastric ulcer progresses gradually, and the symptoms tend to worsen over time. Some of the most common symptoms of gastric ulcers are:

  • Post prandial abdominal discomfort or pain - Patients feel abdominal discomfort right after eating.

  • Hunger pain or pain in the upper abdominal region

  • Stomach burning - patients suffering from gastric ulcers usually complain of heartburn, especially after eating fast food, fried food, or spicy food.

  • Melena - Black stools because of the presence of clotted blood.

  • Blood with vomiting - This is one of the complications of gastric ulcers, which occurs after the disease has worsened to a certain extent.

Diagnosis of gastric ulcers

It is very important to diagnose gastric ulcers on time, because they may result in severe complications. The diagnosis is based on a detailed history, physical examination, and lab tests.

The following are the tests that should be performed for the confirmation of a gastric ulcer diagnosis.

  • Helicobacter Pylori antibody testing - For the detection of Helicobacter pylori (bacteria responsible for causing gastric ulcer).

  • Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy - Gold standard test for the diagnosis of gastric ulcers.

  • Abdominal x-ray

Some other tests which are performed to rule out other disorders that mimic gastric ulcers:

  • 24-hour gastric PH monitoring

  • Abdominal ultrasound

  • Barium meal

  • Stool test - to look for toxins and occult blood

Treatment and prevention

Gastric ulcers are treatable, and the treatment should commence as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed. This is because gastric ulcers have a fatal complication: stomach cancer.

A gastric ulcer is treated with a combination of medication and lifestyle modification. The patient is advised to control his diet strictly and add some exercise to his daily routine, but only if he has a sedentary lifestyle. Diet modification includes:

  • Avoiding spicy food

  • Decreased salt and spices intake

  • No fast food

  • Plenty of water

  • No caffeine (tea, coffee, etc)

  • More fruits and vegetables

It is necessary to control your diet because medicines won't help until the person pays proper attention to his diet.

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