What are stomach ulcers?
Stomach ulcers, also known as peptic ulcers, are sores in the internal lining of the stomach. In order to digest the food that we eat, the stomach produces a strong acid. To prevent the acid from affecting the tissues and linings, it produces a thick layer of mucus. When the layer of mucus wears away or does not function effectively, the acid succeeds in damaging the lining causing sores to develop. These open sores are called ulcers.
Since a long time, the primary cause of stomach ulcers was believed to be excessive acid. But now, after more research on the subject, experts have come up with other reasons also that can cause stomach ulcers.
The mucus lining in the stomach has a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. In normal circumstances, this bacteria causes no problems and resides peacefully in the gut. But, in aggravated conditions, it increases the amount of acid produced and damages the internal lining of the stomach, thereby causing inflammation that leads to the formation of an ulcer.
Frequent use of certain prescription painkillers and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, which come under the bracket of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), can also lead to stomach ulcers. These medicines agitate and swell the internal lining of the stomach which results in an open sore.
Pain relievers, when combined with other medicines such as low-dose aspirin, steroids, anticoagulants, etc., can increase the probability of developing an ulcer.
Some other known causes of stomach ulcers include hyperacidity and diseases such as the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome that makes the stomach produce excessive acid.
The risk of developing stomach ulcers increases in the geriatric population as they are usually chronic painkiller users. The younger generation may also be susceptible if they resort to frequent painkiller use. Other risk factors include:
Stomach ulcers are uncommon in children, however the risk for them increases if their parents smoke.
The above factors do not cause ulcers, but they do worsen the symptoms. Smoking is the primary reason as to why a stomach ulcer would not heal.
In cases, where the ulcer remains untreated, the symptoms can turn severe. Such severe symptoms may include the following:
Sometimes, certain small ulcers might not display any symptoms. These are diagnosed only once they start bleeding. Some ulcers can be so strong that they may cause a condition called perforation, which means a hole in the stomach lining.
Though stomach ulcers are easy to cure, if left untreated, they may cause severe complications like internal bleeding leading to massive blood loss, perforation, severe infection and obstruction, which blocks the passage of food through the digestive tract.
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