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Gastric ulcers: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About gastric ulcers

The occurrence of gastric ulcer is a common problem of the digestive system. A gastric ulcer is a sore which arises from erosion of mucosal membrane which lines the interior of stomach. Several factors may play a role in causing damage to the inner lining of the stomach which results in ulcer formation.

Gastric ulcers: Incidence, age and sex

Gastric ulcer is a commonly encountered digestive problem in the general population. It mainly occurs in older adults, though it can be seen in any age group. Individuals who are chronic smokers and alcoholics are especially prone to gastric ulcer formation.

Signs and symptoms of gastric ulcers: Diagnosis

The predominant symptom of gastric ulcer is stomach pain which is felt in the centre of upper abdomen. The pain is typically experienced at night and may be burning or gnawing in quality. Some individuals may also complain of bloating sensation. The affected individuals also experience increased exhaustion, loss of appetite and even weight loss. In some individuals the gastric ulcer may bleed which is manifested by black, tarry stools and anaemia in the blood test. Occasionally, the epigastric sharp pain of gastric ulcer can be confused with chest pain of heart attack.

It is advisable to consult a specialist when you encounter such pain in upper abdominal region. A detailed history and comprehensive physical examination usually point towards the diagnosis which can be corroborated with presence of anaemia in blood test and presence of occult blood in stool. However upper gastro-intestinal endoscopy is the investigation of choice wherein a flexible tube is passed through mouth into the digestive tract to view the interior of stomach. A specimen of ulcer tissue can also be taken to study it microscopically.

Causes and prevention of gastric ulcers

Gastric ulcer usually occurs due to disruption between aggressive and defensive factors in the gastro-intestinal system. One of the commonest causes of damage to gastric lining is its infection with bacteria named Helicobacter pylori. Moreover, the digestive juices may also cause damage to the already weakened stomach wall. Some factors increase the chances of gastric wall damage. These factors include smoking, alcohol consumption, medications like NSAIDs, increased intake of caffeine and emotional stress.

The occurrence of gastric ulcer can be prevented by some lifestyle modifications which include cessation of smoking and alcohol, reducing emotional and work stress, reduced intake of caffeine and improving eating habits.

Gastric ulcers: Complications

The most common complication of gastric ulcer is bleeding which results in anaemia. Longstanding gastric ulcer which has been neglected may progress to complete perforation of the wall of the stomach. This is a surgical emergency which requires immediate management.

Gastric ulcers: Treatment

The treatment of ulcer includes complete evaluation of the condition of the individual. A course of triple regime including drugs like metronidazole, tetracycline and bismuth may be prescribed for a week or two to eliminate bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Further medications which reduce the production of gastric acids are also prescribed. Such medications include ranitidine, omeprazole and lansoprazole. Sometimes mucosal protective drugs may also be prescribed which form a protective lining over the wall of stomach. The gastric ulcer usually heals with these medications and lifestyle changes.