A few years ago, when I was still a student at Achimota School, I had a friend who was suffering from peptic ulcer. She was allowed into her chop box at any time she wanted just because she had a peptic ulcer. To be honest, I never saw it to be fair at all. Why should she be allowed to go for food from her provisions and I be denied permission? I saw it as some kind of privilege and wanted to get the ulcer so badly because of my abnormal love for food.
A Peptic ulcer is a sore that develops on the lining of the oesophagus, stomach, or small intestine. It’s called gastric ulcer when it develops on the stomach lining and Duodenal ulcer when it develops on the lining of the small intestine. They occur when the thick layer of mucus that protects your stomach from digestive juices is reduced. This allows the digestive acids to eat away at the tissues that line the stomach, causing an ulcer.
1. Infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. Pylori). This is a common bacteria that grows in the digestive tract and has the tendency to attack the stomach lining.
2. Long term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. These drugs weaken the mucus lining in the stomach and make them susceptible to damage.
3. Though very rare, a condition known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers by increasing the body’s production of acid.
The most common symptom is a burning sensation in the middle of your abdomen, between your chest and belly button. It can last for a few minutes to several hours. Usually, for gastric ulcers, one may feel more pains when eating, while the inverse happens with duodenal ulcers, that is, lesser pains while eating.
One may also experience acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of your oesophagus relaxes at the wrong time, allowing stomach acid to move back up into your oesophagus causing heartburns and other symptoms.
When ulcers become severe and start to bleed, they can lead to anaemia. Bleeding ulcers may be very life-threatening and should be treated with urgency.
To diagnose H. Pylori infection, a blood, stool, or breath test may be ordered. For the breath test, one is required to drink a clear liquid and breath into a bag that is immediately sealed. If H. Pylori is present, the breath sample will contain abnormally high levels of carbon dioxide.
Barium Swallow: You drink a thick white liquid(barium) that coats your upper gastrointestinal tract and helps your doctor see your stomach and small intestine on X-rays.
Endoscopy (EGD): A thin, lighted tube is inserted through your mouth and into the stomach, and the first part of the small intestine. This test is used to look for ulcers, bleeding, and any abnormal tissues.
Treatments vary depending on the cause. They are mostly treated with a prescription from your doctor, but in rare cases, surgery may be required. For ulcers as a result of H. Pylori, you’ll probably need antibiotics and some drugs called proton pump inhibitors. They block the stomach cells from producing excess acid.
Symptoms may subside quickly with treatment. They may even disappear but continue to take your medications, especially with H. Pylori infections to ensure that all bacteria are eliminated.
Most of us used to think that the food we eat causes peptic ulcers but now we know this isn’t true. However, we also know that eating a healthy diet could benefit your overall health. It is generally very helpful to eat a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and fibre. Some foods such as spinach, cabbage, yoghurt, olive oil, apples, and strawberries, play a role in eliminating the H. Pylori bacterium. Also, since acid reflux usually accompanies stomach ulcers, it’s a good idea to stay away from spicy and sour foods while an ulcer is healing.
When ulcers are not treated, they may lead to severe complications such as bleeding, penetrations, perforations, and obstructions. As their names already suggest, bleeding is the oozing out of blood from the ulcer while penetrations occur when the ulcers spread into nearby organs such as the pancreas. Perforations refer to when holes are created by these sores and Obstructions refer to the blockage of the passage of food from one digestive organ to the other due to the swelling of inflamed tissues.
To prevent the H. Pylori bacteria from entering our guts, we should try as much as possible to practice good hygiene. Wash hands with soap and water on a regular basis. Clean food and cook as thoroughly as needed.
Avoid the use of NSAIDs if possible. If not, please follow the recommended dosage. Try as much as possible to avoid alcohol and smoking, especially while taking these drugs. Always takes these medications with food and adequate liquids.
Remember, ulcers are curable. They can be very mild when treated well. And oh, being diagnosed with a peptic ulcer isn’t a privilege. But it isn’t really much of a disadvantage. You can live a very normal life just like anyone else. You just need to practice a healthy lifestyle.
“You don’t get ulcers from what you eat, you get them from what’s eating you.”