by Kimberly Allen, RN
Peptic ulcer disease is a common condition that affects millions of Americans every year. In addition to that, peptic ulcer disease is a reoccurring problem even once healed the ulcer can return. Treating peptic disease and it’s complications costs billions of dollars every year. Although anyone can develop peptic ulcer disease it is 4 times more common in men than women, it is also more common in older adults.
So what are ulcers? They are painful open sores. Peptic ulcers are painful sores that develop in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. There are 3 types of peptic ulcers. Those that develop in the stomach are called gastric ulcers, while those that develop in the upper part of the small intestine known as the duodenum are called duodenal ulcers and those that form in the esophagus are called esophageal ulcers. Of these the duodenal ulcers are the most common with at least 4 times more duodenal ulcers being diagnosed than gastric ulcers.
For years and for that matter many people still do think that ulcers are caused by excess stress and/or eating spicy foods. That is a myth. We now know that at least half of all peptic ulcers are caused by the H pylori bacterium. While most of the rest are caused by frequent use of over the counter pain relievers like aspirin, and NSAID’s like ibuprofen and naproxen. Many older adults suffer from some form of arthritis and take over the counter pain relievers on a frequent basis, which is why many older adults also suffer with peptic ulcer disease. There are also certain medications used to treat osteoporosis that can cause peptic ulcer disease to develop .
The most prevalent symptom so peptic ulcer disease is abdominal pain, and the severity of the pain doesn’t always correspond to the severity of the ulcer or ulcers. The pain is usually in the upper abdomen just below the breastbone and has been described as burning, dull and/or sharp. The pain also tends to be worse when your stomach is empty and may flare up at night. Some people find they get temporary relief by eating foods that buffer the stomach acid or by taking an over the counter antacid like TUM’s or Rolaids. If your ulcers are caused by the H pylori bacterium this practice only prolongs treatment. Should the ulcers become severe you could bleed internally which could cause you to vomit up blood,which usually has a coffee ground appearance. Or you could lose blood through your stools which would appear black and tarry if there is blood present. Many people with severe ulcers also tend to lose weight without trying.
When treating peptic ulcer disease the goal is to heal the ulcer and relieve the pain as well as prevent any complications like internal bleeding or infections. In most cases treatment of peptic ulcer disease involves antibiotics to get rid of the H pylori bacterium as well as medications that will reduce the acid levels in your stomach. If your peptic ulcer is caused by something else like over the counter pain relievers you will not need antibiotics. Your doctor will discuss a treatment plan that meets your specific needs. For example your doctor may recommend a different pain reliever. Regardless of the cause most people with peptic ulcer disease will need acid reducing medications for at least a couple of months in order to allow the ulcer time to heal.
There may not be a way to absolutely prevent developing peptic ulcer disease but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. Frequent hand washing, washing fruits and vegetables as well as cooking foods thoroughly are believed to help. If you are a person that requires over the counter pain relievers on a regular basis take the lowest dose you can and still get pain relief and always take the medication with food, even if it’s a slice of toast or some crackers. Never take them on an empty stomach. Alcohol consumption can worsen or aggravate healing ulcers so it’s important to avoid alcohol when being treated for peptic ulcer disease.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.