ROCHESTER, Minn. — There’s no need to put up with gnawing stomach pain due to ulcers. Most peptic ulcers can be cured in a matter of weeks, according to the March issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter.
Peptic ulcers occur in the stomach or in the uppermost part of the small intestine (duodenum). The predominant symptom is a burning pain anywhere from the navel to the breastbone. Pain might last a few minutes to several hours. Typically, pain is worse when the stomach is empty and may flare at night. Often, symptoms improve with eating food or by taking medication that reduces stomach acid.
Until 1980, doctors thought lifestyle factors such as stress and spicy foods caused ulcers. That’s not the case. It’s now known that the common bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) often are the culprit behind ulcers. The bacteria damage the acid-tolerant lining of the stomach or duodenum, allowing stomach acid to reach more sensitive tissue underneath. The result is irritation and more tissue damage.
Regular use of anti-inflammatory pain medications is another common cause of ulcers. The medications can irritate and inflame the lining of the stomach, which can lead to ulcer development. Anti-inflammatory medications include celecoxib (Celebrex), diclofenac (Voltaren), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) and ketoprofen. Aspirin also increases the risk of peptic ulcers.
An ulcer diagnosis is based on symptoms, medical history and imaging of the digestive tract. Blood tests, breath tests and stool samples may be used to check for H. pylori.
Regardless of the cause, treatment focuses on protecting the stomach or duodenum from stomach acid. A physician will likely prescribe one or more acid-reducing medications. If H. pylori is the cause, antibiotics also may be prescribed. Ideally, patients refrain from taking any anti-inflammatory medications.
With proper treatment, ulcers usually heal within a few weeks. While lifestyle factors aren’t the primary causes of ulcers, they can contribute to worsening symptoms. To encourage healing, it’s important to manage stress, stop smoking and avoid alcohol.