Lady Margaret is a 25-year-old and the second among three children. Recently, she has been complaining of a burning sensation in her abdomen whenever her stomach is empty. After taking in certain foods, the pain worsens. Her sister, Janet suggested that she may be suffering from a stomach ulcer and recommended the pharmacy to get some drugs. However, her friend Gifty thinks otherwise. Gifty suggested that they shouldn’t rush to draw any conclusions because even if it’s an ulcer, there may be differences and over the counter drugs may not help.
Do you agree? In this article, we will look at some different types of ulcers.
Ulcer comes from the Greek word elkos meaning wound. An ulcer is an open sore on an external or internal surface of the body, caused by a break in the skin or mucous membrane which fails to heal fast. Sometimes, this sore may heal but might recur. Ulcers can appear anywhere on your body. Where they appear, how they appear and what caused them to appear will help in finding treatment for it. The good news is ulcers are curable!
Peptic has to do with anything that promotes digestion. Thus, this type of ulcer can further be divided into:
· Esophageal ulcer- ulcer that develops in the oesophagus.
· Gastric ulcer- commonly known as a stomach ulcer. Ulcer develops in the stomach lining.
· Duodenal ulcer- ulcer that develops in the duodenum (small intestine).
Thus, if a person suspects an ulcer, it could be any of these three types and medications may differ. To better understand these, let’s delve a little deeper.
· The internal part of the body is lined by a gel-like substance called mucous. It serves two main functions. Firstly, it lubricates the ingested food to allow smooth movement within the digestive tract and secondly, it forms a protective layer between the cells of the body and digestive processes.
The body produces acids to break down the food we eat and kill harmful bacteria present in ingested food. Acid is a strong substance and can erode the cells of the stomach that secreted them.
· This is unsafe and hence, the body secretes a mucus layer that separates them from the lumen (space where digestive processes take place). In individuals with peptic ulcer, this protective layer of mucus is gradually depleted which exposes the cells to the highly acidic environment in the lumen. This causes a sore which is termed an ulcer.
An ulcer can be painful to treat because of the constant exposure to the acidic environment. When a person has an empty stomach, it means the acid in the stomach has no food to break down and so it will disturb the exposed cells. This causes abdominal pain.
· Aside from the protective mucus layer, the cells also produce base such as bicarbonate iron to neutralize the acids in the lumen.
· Blood circulation can repair the cells that produce the mucus.
This is why some ulcers are mild and others are painful. The degree to which the body is compromised will depict the symptoms a person displays.
A peptic ulcer is mainly caused by a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. The bacteria may be transferred through unclean food, water and eating utensils. It may also spread through direct contact with saliva such as kissing. The presence of this bacteria in the gut causes the mucus layer to be depleted.
The less common cause which gaining grounds gradually is NSAIDs. NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Using these drugs occasionally for headaches may not cause ulcer unless they are used for a longer period especially for chronic pains and arthritis.
NSAIDs reduce the action of substances(prostaglandins) that causes pain. Prostaglandins protect the mucus layer. Thus, when the drugs work, they tamper with some of these substances(prostaglandins) in the stomach. If it goes on for a longer period, they compromise it and expose the cells to the acidic environment.
It has been asserted that spicy foods do not cause ulcer but they may worsen the pain as well as smoking. Alcohol can also irritate and erode the mucus lining and increase the acid produced by the stomach.
The oesophagus is the channel that connects your throat to your stomach. The sore usually happens at the lower part of the oesophagus, at the junction of the oesophagus and stomach. This type is the least common type of ulcer. Individuals feel the burning sensation usually at their chest.
Apart from the causes mentioned above, individuals with a condition called Gastroesophageal reflux disease are at higher risk of getting this type. This is because such individuals have acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the stomach content moves backwards into the oesophagus. Acid reflux may damage the mucus layer with time.
The stomach is the organ where most digestion takes place. If the mucus layer is compromised, the acids will eat away at the cells that line the stomach, causing an ulcer.
Rarely, a condition called Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome can cause the stomach and intestine to increase the production of acid which will overwhelm the mucus layer eventually leading to a sore.
The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine where partially digested food is absorbed. Ulcers that occur in this region are the most common. Individuals with ulcer generally have a burning sensation in their abdomen. They lack the desire to eat because of the pain and their stomach may look bloated.
· The best thing to do is to see a doctor. Appropriate medication will be given depending on the type and symptoms you exhibit.
· Lifestyle changes such as avoiding smoking and drinking especially among ulcer patients will go a long way to recover quickly.
· Avoiding foods that contain acids especially on an empty stomach.
· Intake of probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are good for the body. They can help sick individuals to recover early or healthy individuals to maintain a balanced gut. Examples of probiotics include yoghurt, sauerkraut and tempeh. They can help to fight the ulcer bacteria; Helicobacter pylori.
Ulcers are curable! Don't be afraid to see a doctor. Your health is your wealth.
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