We've all heard about listening to our gut instincts, but what about when your gut may be trying to alert you to a serious problem? Gastrointestinal issues often go overlooked as general stomach discomfort. Ulcers in the stomach are particularly sneaky suspects when it comes to diagnosing GI issues. Peptic ulcers come with a range of symptoms from severe to nearly undetectable.
If your gut is telling you something is not right, it may be time to consult a gastroenterologist. The gut translators at Carolina Digestive Health are here to support a healthy digestive system and happy patients. No amount of discomfort should be considered "normal" and, with our trained team of GI specialists, you never have to live with stomach problems.
Take a closer look into the signs and symptoms of stomach ulcers, ulcer treatment, and what a gastroenterologist can do to diagnose and treat pain and discomfort caused by peptic ulcers.
What Are Ulcers?
Stomach ulcers, more technically known as peptic ulcers, are open sores that develop on the inside lining of the stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine. Imagine the burning pain one might feel from an external sore, then picture that same irritation inside the GI tract. It's no surprise that stomach pain is the most common symptom associated with these types of ulcers, as well as a host of other symptoms of varying severity (see below).
There are two types of peptic ulcers to be aware of; gastric ulcers and duodenal ulcers. Gastric ulcers occur inside the stomach, while duodenal ulcers prefer lingering on the inside of the upper portion of the small intestine or duodenum. As you might imagine, neither ulcer feels particularly good when left untreated!
Stomach ulcers are most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, usually the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) can also cause or exacerbate peptic ulcers.
It is a common myth that factors such as stress and spicy foods cause stomach ulcers. However, these factors can certainly make symptoms worse, along with fatty foods and high sugar intake.
The good news is that ulcers are quickly taken care of with the help of a GI specialist.
Diagnosing Stomach Ulcers
Although the symptoms of stomach ulcers may not be apparent at first, there are several steps a gastroenterologist can take to diagnose the condition. Foremost, a GI specialist will look for clear warning signs of irritation in the stomach lining. The most common symptoms of peptic ulcers include:
- Burning stomach pain
- Feeling of fullness, bloating or belching
- Intolerance to fatty foods
More severe symptoms may include:
- Vomiting or vomiting blood — which may appear red or black
- Dark blood in stools, or stools that are black or tarry
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling faint
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Appetite changes
A gastroenterologist can verify that these symptoms are indeed caused by a peptic ulcer through a series of x-rays or an upper endoscopy (or EGD) which involves inserting a thin, flexible tube through the throat and into the stomach and small intestine.
Don't worry; an endoscopy isn't as much of a bellyache as it sounds! In fact, they're generally not painful at all. Most patients experience some bloating during or after the procedures with minimal side effects beyond mild discomfort. Your doctor will be there to guide you every step of the way and answer any questions or concerns that arise.
Do Ulcers Cause Heartburn? Do Ulcer Cause Bad Breath?! Are Ulcers Curable (And More Uncomfortable Questions)?
While ulcers may seem like a minor inconvenience, they can actually cause a lot of problems throughout the digestive system and beyond. Patients suffering with stomach ulcers often experience heartburn and nausea. These symptoms are similar to GERD and often lead to aggravated indigestion when consuming spicy foods, fatty foods, carbs, and sugars.
The resulting build-up of stomach acid and bile can lead to tooth decay and bad breath -- all issues we'd like to avoid. The good news is that once diagnoses, peptic ulcers are fairly easy to treat. Stomach ulcers are curable with medical intervention. In fact, both gastric ulcers and duodenal ulcers are two of the few types of ulcers that can be cured completely.
Don't stock up on breath mints just yet. Explore treatment options for peptic ulcers so you can begin healing and recovery.
Stomach Ulcer Treatment and Recovery
Treating stomach ulcers is typically a non-invasive process. Depending on the underlying cause, specific treatment will be recommended so you can make a full and complete recovery.
If H. pylori bacteria are found to be the cause of the ulcer, a combination of antibiotics are utilized to kill any harmful bacteria and restore a healthy gut microbiome. Antibiotics may include amoxicillin (Amoxil), clarithromycin (Biaxin), metronidazole (Flagyl), tinidazole (Tindamax), tetracycline, and levofloxacin.
Once antibiotic treatment has been completed, your doctor may recommend a follow-up routine of probiotic and prebiotic supplements to restore and strengthen your natural gut flora and encourage the growth of "good bacteria."
Medications that block acid production and promote recovery are also a viable treatments. These medications include proton pump inhibitors — also called PPIs — designed to reduce stomach acid by blocking the action of the parts of cells that produce. Most patients recognize these as heartburn relief agents, but these drugs can actually heal peptic ulcers when taken at the advice of a gastroenterologist. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are available including omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (Aciphex), esomeprazole (Nexium), and pantoprazole (Protonix).
While side effects are minimal, your doctor may recommend a calcium supplement if taking the medication over a prolonged period. Calcium counteracts the risk of bone fracture that is occasionally heightened by high dosages of PPIs.
Other treatments include medications designed to reduce acid production along with OTC antacids for less severe cases of peptic ulcers. To protect the lining of the stomach, medications containing cytoprotective agents are sometimes recommended. These powerful medications shield the tissue of the stomach and small intestine to prevent scarring and damage.
Talk to a GI Doctor in Charlotte, NC Today
Stop ignoring what your gut may be telling you and start feeling better. Contact our amazing GI team to schedule an appointment.
Looking for more tummy-friendly tips? Check out 10 Superfoods That Support Gastrointestinal Health.