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A Class on Ulcers
Experts used to think that too much stomach acid or certain lifestyle factors such as stress or an unhealthy diet caused peptic ulcers. Now they know that many ulcers are caused by the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium.
That's good news because now it's possible to heal ulcers and do so with only a couple weeks of treatment. And, killing the bacterium reduces the risk of ulcer recurrence in 90% of the people treated.
The bad news: H. pylori can be transmitted from person to person through contaminated food and water. That's another reason why it's so important to wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom.
Other causes of ulcers are some forms of cancer and frequent use of nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
If you already have an ulcer and haven't been tested for H. Pylori, ask your doctor to determine whether your ulcer is caused by the bacterium.
Peptic ulcers are holes or sores that form in the lining of the stomach or upper part of the small intestine. They don't always have symptoms, but the most common one is recurring pain in the upper abdomen. It lasts from a few minutes to a few hours and may be relieved by eating or by antacids.
If you have the following symptoms, call your doctor at once. An ulcer may have perforated your stomach lining, broken a blood vessel or blocked the path of food trying to leave your stomach.
sharp, persistent stomach pain
Other less common symptoms include
nausea and vomiting
Ulcers are diagnosed by endoscopy (examination of the inside of an organ or body cavity with a tiny camera on a flexible tube) or upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series X-rays.
H. pylori is diagnosed by blood, breath or tissue tests. (Not everyone with H. pylori has ulcers.)
Ulcers are treated with several kinds of medicine: acid suppressing drugs, drugs to modify the stomach's acid production, medicines to protect the stomach lining from acid and antibiotics that fight H. pylori. People who develop complications or who don't respond to antibiotics may require surgery. Untreated ulcers can lead to anemia or even death.
A bland diet isn't used to treat peptic ulcers any longer. But, it's important to avoid smoking and taking in too much caffeine or alcohol during treatment. Doing so can affect the stomach's ability to defend itself against digestive fluids.
And remember that while stress doesn't cause ulcers, too much stress can increase ulcer pain as well as increase your risk of developing ulcers.
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