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Ulcers are sores that develop when the skin or mucous membrane on a bodily surface erodes away. Ulcers most commonly occur in the lining of the stomach, small intestine, and mouth, though it is possible for them to develop in other parts of the body. Ulcers of the stomach, also known as Peptic Ulcer Disease (PUD) are especially common. An estimated 10-15% of Americans will develop a peptic (stomach) ulcer at some point in their lives. Ulcers are typically treatable with medications, dietary restrictions, and lifestyle changes. If ulcers progress too far before they are detected, they may cause serious complications or require surgical intervention. The majority of patients with ulcers can continue to live normal lives after receiving treatment.
The most common ulcers, peptic ulcers, are caused by an erosion of the mucous membrane that lines the stomach. This erosion is most often caused by an infection of the stomach by a type of bacteria known as Heliobacter pylori or H.pylori. Though H.pylori infection is the most common cause of ulcers, ulcers may also be caused by long-term over-consumption of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen and naproxen. It was long believed that ulcers are caused by stress and poor diet, though these factors are now believed to be more influences than causes. Stress and poor diet can worsen an ulcer, but they cannot cause an ulcer.
The following factors can increase your risk of developing an ulcer and/or worsen an existing ulcer:
Your doctor will most likely use a combination of the following diagnostic tests to determine whether or not the source of your symptom is an ulcer:
The following may be symptoms of an ulcer:
The prognosis for ulcers depends largely on the stage in which the ulcer is detected. According to a 2003 study published in the World Journal of Surgery, mortality rates for ulcers that have progressed to the stage of bleeding and/or perforation (tearing through the stomach wall) can be as high as 10%. Most ulcers that have not progressed to this stage are treatable, though it may take more than 8 weeks for the ulcer to heal completely.
The following tips can help you live more comfortably with ulcers:
There currently aren’t any regulations for screening for ulcers. Ulcers are typically only detected after the patient reports abdominal pain/ other ulcer symptoms or shows signs of abdominal pain during a physical exam. Patients who are at a high risk for stomach ulcers or those that have previously had ulcers may want to visit the doctor more frequently to monitor for the presence of ulcers and/or H.pylori infection.
The following steps can help to prevent the development of ulcers:
A combination of the following medications are typically used to treat ulcers:
In addition to medications, an ulcer treatment plan will most likely recommend the following lifestyle changes:
Alternative treatments can be very effective in the treatment of ulcers, especially for purposes of stress management. These include:
Biofeedback therapy, in which the mind learns read and work with the signs of the body in order to reduce pain, stress, and anxiety.
Acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted at points around the body to restore the bodily flow of energy. Acupuncture has been proven to decrease stress and anxiety, and can also help to restore proper digestion.
Herbal therapy, either in supplement or tea form. The following are herbal therapies frequently used in the treatment of ulcers:
Yoga is a form of mind and body exercise that has potential to decrease stress and prevent many gastrointestinal diseases. For the best effect, yoga should be practiced for at least 20 minutes a day, every day. The breathing exercises associated with yoga, known as pranayama, can be especially helpful in reducing the severity of gastrointestinal disease as they work to strengthen the diaphragm/chest muscles and also reduce stress/anxiety.
Meditation/guided imagery, which can be effective means of stress reduction and management. Meditation can be conducted independently or in a group setting. Guided imagery typically is conducted in a group setting or one on one with a therapist, though pre-recorded audio files of guided imagery are available.
If you are caring for someone with ulcers, consider the following:
Contact a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
**Call emergency services, this could be a sign of a heart attack.
To find a gastroenterologist in your area, visit The American College of Gastroenterology.
You may want to ask your doctor the following questions:
For more information on ulcers, visit:
The American College of Gastroenterology’s Clinical Guidelines Page
American Gastroenterological Association
The National Library of Medicine – Medline Plus
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Behavior Change-Up for a Slimmer You
Extreme Exercise and Heart Health
Change Begins with Letting Go
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