Beyond Hunger Pains: Stomach Ulcer and its Complications
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Stomach ulcers are sores in the stomach or upper part of the small intestine, most commonly caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria or excessive use of aspirin, ibuprofen etc. The symptoms include stomach pain, a burning sensation, burping, nausea, having a dark stool and feeling tired in general. It should be taken seriously and treated properly according to what the healthcare provider recommends.
-You know, I’ve been feeling this burning pain in my stomach for a month now. It’s becoming unbearable. And on top of everything, it looks like I vomited blood this morning!- said Yakubu to his wife, Stella.
-Oh my, you should see a doctor! Today!-
And Yakubu’s wife is right. These symptoms are very serious, and they are also some of the most common symptoms of stomach ulcer, which needs to be treated as soon as possible. So let’s see what Yakubu did.
Yakubu had been a picture of health. He plays football every weekend and only takes a medication for joint pain.
For the past month, Yakubu has been feeling unwell. He felt this burning sensation in his stomach, and he was constantly burping. His appetite was almost gone since he would feel pain when he ate or drank, and he lost some weight very quickly. About a week ago, his stool became black, tar-like, but he thought he maybe ate something bad. But after he got sick and vomited something that looked like blood, he got really worried, as he should. All of his symptoms point to a stomach ulcer, also called peptic ulcer.
Types of stomach ulcer
After Yakubu explained all the symptoms he had been experiencing to his doctor, the doctor instantly thought of stomach ulcer.
– What does it mean to have stomach ulcer? This means that you have a damaged stomach lining and developed sores (ulcers), which are now causing all these problems. Stomach acid makes these sores burn. Now, there are two possible types. The one I just mentioned is a stomach or gastric ulcer. But if these sores are in the intestinal area just after your stomach (i.e., the upper small bowel or duodenum), then these are duodenal ulcers.
In any case, just by looking at the symptoms, the doctor could not determine accurately whether Yakubu had stomach ulcers and what type. So the doctor did some tests.
Diagnosing stomach ulcer
To be sure that Yakubu has stomach ulcers and give him the proper treatment, the doctor reviewed the symptoms and sent Yakubu to test his blood and stool. Another procedure can be used, such as endoscopy (when a thin tube is inserted in your stomach through the mouth, and the doctor can look for bleeding and ulcers), or barium swallow (when you drink barium which helps the doctor examine your stomach through the X-ray). The tests confirmed that Yakubu indeed has stomach ulcers. As any person who suddenly got sick, Yakubu was very confused.
-But why? I don’t understand how I got this
Causes of stomach ulcer and myths about causes
To answer Yakubu’s question, we need to look into what is proven to cause ulcers. There are two main causes:
1. Infection caused by Helicobacter pylori – a bacteria that lives in the stomach lining and can irritate it
2. Prolonged use of aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. People taking these widely available pain medications are often unaware that they can cause stomach ulcer.
It is often said that stomach ulcers are caused by your lifestyle. If you are constantly under stress, if you eat strong, spicy food and drink a lot of alcohol, this can allegedly cause ulcers. But there is little scientific evidence that these are actual causes. Nevertheless, if you already have a stomach ulcer, it would help to avoid these things.
So, what now? Can Yakubu ever live a normal life again?
Of course, with proper treatment, everyone can get back to normal.
Treatment will depend on the cause of the stomach ulcer. Yakubu’s blood and stool tests showed that he has Helicobacter pylori, so the assumption is that this caused his ulcers. To cure them, the doctor prescribed antibiotics to Yakubu. When the bacteria is killed, the ulcers will not come back. He was also prescribed a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) to block stomach acid production.
For patients who do not have this bacteria, they are treated with a PPI alone.
The most important thing is to discuss the treatment with your healthcare provider. There are many helpful pieces of advice you can get from them, besides the medication, so make sure you ask questions and listen to what they have to say. If your ulcer is persistent, the doctor will keep adapting the treatment until it shows to be efficient.
Luckily, Yakubu reacted quickly (thanks to Stella) and he is already getting better. He should see significant improvement in how he feels in about two weeks.
However, had he not reacted instantly and sought medical attention, many things could have gone wrong. He could have experienced internal bleeding, perforation (when the lining of the stomach splits open which can lead to an infection), or gastric outlet obstruction which would render Yakubu unable to eat since the passage of food would be blocked. Sometimes something more serious such as cancer can cause similar symptoms as stomach ulcer so it is always best to get checked out. Ulcers are a lot more common than cancer.
Fortunately, none of these complications occurred because Yakubu reacted on time and consulted his doctor, who provided him with proper treatment. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, do not wait for them to go away, because they will not. Schedule an appointment with your doctor and get the treatment you need.