Stomach Ulcer Causes
Learning exactly what a stomach ulcer is and all of the stomach ulcer causes is essential to the treatment process. Modern research has revealed that patients who understand their condition very well frequently fair better than those who have no idea what is happening to them.
As with many conditions, the best method for combating stomach ulcers is prevention. In this article, I will go over what causes stomach ulcers, what they actually are, and provide resources for symptoms and treatment.
Anatomy of a Stomach Ulcer
A stomach ulcer is a common term used by laymen to describe one of several medical conditions. In particular, an ulcer is an erosion in the lining of the stomach, intenstines, or esophagus. This can occur for a variety of reasons, which will be covered in the next section.
The digestive tract is covered in the mucus-laden, tough lining known as mucosa. Ulcers can occur anywhere along this tract.
In the case of a stomach ulcer (medically known as a peptic ulcer), these can occur along several locations and are given distinct names.
Ulcers that occur in the actual stomach are known as gastric ulcers, whereas ulcers that occur in the early portion of the small intestine (where the stomach empties its contents) are known as duodenal ulcers.
Ulcers can even occur in the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the mouth and throat. These are known as esophageal ulcers. Esophageal ulcers are much different from gastric and duodenal ulcers, as under normal conditions stomach acid should not be present in the esophagus.
This is an important distinction to make because not all stomach ulcer causes are the same; the location of the stomach ulcer influences the likely causes.
Causes of Stomach Ulcers
Now that you understand the difference between different types of ulcers, we can begin to look at stomach ulcer causes.
The bacterium Helicobacter pylori (commonly known as H pylori) is thought to at least play a hand in the vast majority of stomach ulcers.
This bacterium is one of the few bacteria that can actually live in the stomach. In order to survive the acidic conditions of its environment, it literally tunnels into the stomach lining in order to find refuge.
As you can imagine, this irritates the stomach lining. One the stomach’s protective coating becomes compromised due to infection and inflammation, stomach acid can then create an ulcer.
For more information, see our article on H pylori symptoms.
Regular use of NSAIDs (such as naproxen, aspirin, and ibuprofen) have been associated with ulcers. These drugs can irritate the stomach lining and lead to ulceration.
These become a real issue when people take these drugs regularly for relief from chronic pain. They are very rough on the digestive system.
This can act independently or in conjunction with H Pylori.
Note that I am referring to doses used for pain relief. Baby aspirin, which is typically used daily for its blood-thinning effects in those with cardiovascular disease is a much smaller dose.
If you have an ulcer and are taking aspirin for this reason, consult with your doctor. It is important for your doctor to know everything you are taking, even if it is just an over the counter product. It might be recommended that you switch to another medication.
Tylenol (acetaminophen) is not an NSAID and is usually what is recommended for people with ulcers. However, this drug has side effects to and no over the counter pain medication should be used on a daily basis for this reason.
Alcohol and other Drugs
Drinking alcohol regularly decimates the entire digestive tract and can lead to chronic gastritis, acid-reflux, and ultimately an increased risk for ulcers. Drinking on an ulcer is not a good idea.
Other drugs including prescription and over the counter medication may cause digestive issues as well and increase your chance of getting an ulcer.
Be sure to talk to your doctor and relate any stomach-related side effects you may experience from a medication. It is easy to lie and say you are not experiencing any side effects from a medicine, but it is much better to catch an ulcer (or another problem) early than putting it off until later.
Stress and Spicy Foods
While stress alone may not be enough to be one of the stomach ulcer causes, it may be contributory.
Many people have H Pylori infections without having stomach ulcers. In fact, some estimates suggest that it is possible that a majority of the world’s population is infected with H Pylori, whereas ulcers are many times less prevalent.
The difference is that one group some seem to be particularly susceptible to H pylori. This may be due to genetics, a compromised immune system, or excess inflammation, but one thing is clear: some are likely to get an ulcer than others.
Periods of high stress can suppress the immune system due to prolonged exposure to cortisol. This could potentially increase your susceptibility to H pylori.
Note that spicy foods and foods in general are not a cause of stomach ulcers but rather an irritant of an already present ulcer. A bland diet is unlikely to help you recover faster, but rather a nutritious diet seems more beneficial. Of course, you have to go by personal tolerance. If a food gives you abdominal discomfort, avoid it.