Pain Management

How To Avoid Ulcers

Over the counter pain relievers may seem harmless enough, but take enough of a certain type and you could find yourself with a peptic ulcer, a potentially serious abdominal disorder. And if you’ve been ignoring or downplaying some signs of abdominal discomfort, it could be that you should see your doctor for the same condition.
Here, from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, part of the National Institutes of Health, are some things you should know about this condition:
Peptic ulcers are sores that form in the lining of your stomach or duodenum (the first part of your small intestine. Peptic ulcers in the stomach are called gastric ulcers, the NDDIC says, while those in the duodenum are called duodenal ulcers. Both types are caused by helicobacter pylori (h. pylori), a germ that causes infections, or by taking too many NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin). H. pylori can be spread through dirty food or water, or even by kissing, the NDDIC says. But although many people have the bacterial infection, most never develop an ulcer.
Common symptoms include, the NDDIC says, a dull or burning pain in your stomach. The pain may stop if you eat or take an antacids. This pain may also be of varying length at a time, or be intermittent for days or weeks.
The NDDIC experts also say that your appetite may decrease, or you might experience bloating or weight loss. Additional symptoms include burping, nausea and vomiting.

The experts recommend calling your doctor about these symptoms, even if they are mild. More serious symptoms include a sudden, sharp, persistent stomach pain; black or bloody stools; vomit that is bloody or looks like coffee grounds. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

These symptoms, says the NDDIC, could be signs that an ulcer has perforated your stomach wall, or stopped moving food from your stomach to your duodenum, or that a blood vessel has been broken.
In cases like that, surgery may be required.

There are a number of tests to diagnose peptic ulcers, ranging from blood and stool tests to an endoscopy, in which a flexible tube is used to examine the affected area. Another diagnostic procedure, a series of X-rays, enables a doctor to examine your stomach and duodenum.

The good news, though, is that peptic ulcers can be cured. Your doctor may prescribe one or more antibiotics to kill an H. pylori infection, or a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) or histamine receptor blocker (H2 blocker) to protect the lining of your one or more antibiotics to kill an H. pylori infection.

If an ulcer was caused by NSAIDs, your doctor will tell you to either reduce the quantity you take or stop taking them altogether. If you still take NSAIDs, he or she may tell you to take a PPI or H2 blocker as well. You may also be advised to switch to another medicine that won’t cause ulcers, the NDDIC says.

(By the way, neither antacids nor milk will help your ulcers heal. They will only make you feel better briefly, and milk, the NDDIC says, actually increases stomach acid. Tell your doctor if you are taking them, or considering taking them.)

While you’re healing, the NDDIC advises, take only the medicines your doctor tells you to take, and finish the course of all medicines. Make sure to inform your doctor if any medicine makes you feel sick or has side effects such as diarrhea or headaches.

You should also stop smoking and avoid alcohol, the NDDIC says. Smoking and alcohol actually slow the healing process.

Although peptic ulcers can be healed, they can come back as well. To prevent that, use non-NSAIDs and avoid tobacco. To prevent ulcers caused by H. pylori, the NDDIC says, wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and before eating; eat properly washed and cooked foods; and drink water from a safe source.

For more about ulcers and other digestive diseases, visit the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

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