Peptic ulcers: That burning pain that won’t go away

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    The most common symptoms of a peptic ulcer are abdominal pain and burning. (Shutterstock photo)

    According to the Physicians’ Desk Reference, peptic ulcers are often caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylorus (H. pylori,) which infects approximately 20 percent of young adults and 50 percent of people over the age of 60. Poor eating habits, crowded living conditions and close contact with other people may aid spread of this bacterium.

    Latinos are twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to suffer from peptic ulcers, small areas in the esophagus, stomach or small intestine where tissue have worn away leaving an open, painful  sore.

    Some Hispanics may be at an increased risk for contraction of H. pylori due to risk factors such as low socioeconomic status, living with many family members in crowded households, obesity and the pressures of acculturation.

    What are peptic ulcers?

    Peptic ulcers are open sores that occur along the digestive tract. Depending on their location, they can go by different names, such as a gastric ulcer which is a peptic ulcer inside the stomach.

    The Mayo Clinic states peptic ulcers occur as a result of acid wearing away surface layers of tissue. This corrosion is the result of an increase in acid production or a decrease in the protective layer of mucous in the digestive tract.

    Common factors which alter the balance of mucous and acid include:

    • H. pylori bacterium alters the mucous layer and causes inflammation. Experts are uncertain how this bacterium spreads; however it is believed common contact, such as kissing, can pass it from one individual to another.
    • Using over-the-counter pain medications chronically can cause irritation and inflammation of the digestive tract.
    • Prescription medications can also be harsh on the stomach, especially those used to treat osteoporosis.

    Although it is a common assumption, it is not true that stress will cause a peptic ulcer; however, stress can contribute to factors leading up to a peptic ulcer.

    What are the symptoms of peptic ulcers?

    stomach ulcer

    Latinos are twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to suffer from peptic ulcers, small areas in the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine where tissue has worn away leaving an open sore. (Shutterstock photo)

    Burning pain in the abdomen is the most common symptom associated with a peptic ulcer, though people may also experience symptoms of:

    • Painful flare-ups at night
    • Temporary relief from pain when taking antacids
    • Pain which disappears then reoccurs days or weeks later
    • Pain which is worse when the stomach is empty
    • Vomiting blood
    • Weight loss
    • Loss of appetite
    • Blood in stool

    Can peptic ulcers be healed?

    Because many of the cases of peptic ulcers are caused by H. pylori, treatment usually involves antibiotics to kill the bacterium.

    Most individuals must be on antibiotics for at least two weeks and must also take medication for pain relief and acid regulation. In the majority of cases, treatment with medication will remedy the issue.

    In some situations, peptic ulcers won’t heal. If this occurs, the peptic ulcer is called a refractory ulcer. This complication can be due to:

    • Continued use of tobacco
    • Resistant bacterium strains
    • Not following medication directions completely
    • Stomach cancer
    • Diseases which cause an abundance of acid to be produced
    • Diseases which cause ulcers, such as Crohn’s disease

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