Abdominal Volcanoes: Stomach Ulcers Causes and Prevention

Today’s busy fast-paced life, with a lot of constraint on time, makes most people opt for ready to eat fast foods. However, fast foods, carbonated drinks and packed foods, containing preservatives, add fuel to the stress-filled life to form peptic ulcer.  Besides, people take medicines for trivial ailments that tend to irritate the stomach, causing ulcer.


Stomach Ulcers – Description

Stomach UlcerThe digestive juices are secreted by the stomach helping digestion of food. These digestive juices contain hydrochloric acid, a gastric acid and an enzyme known as Pepsin.  Every intake of food is passed through the stomach and the duodenum, where the vital nutrients are absorbed enabling digestion.  Nevertheless, the duration period of digestion varies from each person depending on the type of intake.  For instance, water needs no digestion, wherein a vegetarian meal takes roughly 45 minutes to one hour, with potatoes requiring 20 minutes for digestion.  Non-vegetarian food takes approximately one and a half hours time to digest.  Consuming ice creams after a heavy meal and cold weather, delays the process of digestion, imparting a feeling of fullness.  In addition to all this, the digestion does not take place in case of overeating, toxicity, or irritations making the intestines reject food through vomiting or diarrhoea. Increased irritation produces diarrhoea, wherein chronic infection leads to constipation. With excessive secretion of digestive juices the surface of the stomach or the duodenum leads to formation of ulcers.


Stomach ulcer pertaining to digestion is small sores in the lining of the stomach or the duodenum, the first part of intestine, caused by allergic irritants, chemical drugs or an infection. This condition can also occur in the oesophagus and other parts of small intestine.


Types of Ulcer

Ulceration in the stomach is known as gastric ulcer, while duodenal ulcer refers to the involvement of the duodenum. An ulcer in the oesophagus is referred to as oesophageal ulcer.  However, “gastritis” is the generalised term used commonly for all types of ulcers and they are collectively known as “peptic ulcer.”

Stomach Ulcer

Peptic Ulcer (Image source: physio-pedia.com)

Gastric ulcers peak in the age group of 50 – 60 years.  Duodenal ulcers peak in the age group of 20-50 years, with the ratio of male and female being 2:1.  Occurrence of peptic ulcer is more common in people with ‘O’ blood group.


Causes of Ulcer

Genetic Factors

Ulcer has been identified to run in families


Stress factors

Stress also can cause ulcer. Its incidence is more in people who are sensitive, anxious and emotional, who think a lot, because of which there is a continuous secretion of acid.


Dietary Factors

Spicy food

(Image source: morgueFile.com)

Spicy and chilly foods can cause stomach ulcers.


Food Toxicity

Chemicals or decayed foods may produce ulcer formation


Faulty Habits

Irregular dietary habits combined with smoking and drinking alcohol may be other factors.


Neurological Factors

Lack of nerve coordination may often lead to relaxation of pylorus, which may permit the secretion of bile, into the stomach, causing gastric ulcer. Besides relaxation on oesophagus, may produce acid reflux, resulting in oesophagus ulcer, often felt as heartburn.  Vagus nerve stimulates excessive acid secretion during anxiety, producing ulcers.


Increased Acid Secretion

Several people with duodenal ulcers have increased digestive juices from the stomach that may be caused by stimulation of the nerves, factors concerning stomach diseases or other hormonal disorders such as tumours of thyroid, pancreas and adrenal glands


Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases, that cause increased urea levels and bacterial presence in blood, often lead to ulcer.


Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) happen to be another major reason for formation of ulcers.  Certain drugs prescribed for prevention of specific ailments such as heart attack or stroke, besides over the counter painkillers, cause undue irritation and inflammation in the stomach and intestine lining. Stomach ulcers are generally more common among older people, under prolonged medications for conditions such as osteoarthritis.  However, any prescribed painkiller may be safe when taken with meals to avoid further complications.


Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)

A type of bacteria responsible for the formation of 60 per cent of stomach ulcers and at least 90 per cent of duodenal ulcers .  This organism weakens the protective layers of the stomach at the beginning stage of ulecer formation allowing damaging digestive juices to eat away  the sensitive lining resulting in formation of ulcers.


Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome 

Stomach or duodenal ulcers may be caused due to a syndrome known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, which is an unusual condition where pancreatic tumours secreting high doses of enzymes? that aggravate the stomach acid.


Lifestyle Factors

  • Stomach ulcers may be caused due to unhealthy lifestyle factors such as chewing tobacco, smoking, drinking alcohol and over consumption of caffeine.
  • Alcoholic liver cirrhosis has been linked to incidence of stomach ulcers, although there is no conclusive study concerning limited consumption of alcohol and ulcer formation.
  • Caffeine stimulates an existing ulcer, aggravating the stomach acids.
  • Smoking largely prolongs the duration of healing of ulcers.
  • Physical stress increases the possibilities of an ulcer. Although mental and emotional stress is often cited as one of the reasons for an ulcer, there is no proper evidence to prove the case.
  • Radiation therapy is one of the causes of ulcers.
  • Increased risk of H. pylori due to Diabetes


Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers

The most common symptom of ulcer manifests as abdominal pain with a burning or gnawing sensation.  The pain is caused by the ulcer and is aggravated by stomach acid being exposed to the ulcerated area.  Felt in the upper abdominal area or on the location of the stomach beneath the left ribcage, the pain, or discomfort tends to increase with hunger, sometimes 2 – 3 hours after a meal or between meals.  It gets aggravated during nights while asleep.  The pain often stops briefly with consumption of food or antacids.


Other Symptoms

  • Mild nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Bloating
  • Burping
  • Indigestion
  • Hunger and an empty feeling in the stomach, occurring within 1 – 3 hours after a meal
  • Fatigue
  • Bright or altered blood present in vomit or bowel motions
  • Symptoms of anaemia, such as light-headedness


Complications and Risk Factors
  • Internal bleeding – A bleeding ulcer, left untreated, may however, produce vomiting of blood, resembling coffee grounds, or black bloody stools known as melaena, which requires a Doctor’s attention immediately.  Due to gradual loss of blood, there are chances of developing symptoms of anaemia, which may require hospitalization or blood transfusion.
  • Peritonitis – Peptic ulcers can eat a hole through the stomach lining or small intestine, making a person prone to peritonitis, a condition causing infection in the abdominal cavity.       
  • Scar tissue – Peptic ulcers can also produce scar tissue blocking the passage of food through the digestive tract, by creating a feeling of fullness, producing vomiting and loss of weight.


Diagnosis Options

There are innumerable options available for diagnosis of stomach ulcers. They include undergoing an endoscopic and x ray examinations, besides testing for H. pylori.


Endoscopy Procedure

The endoscopic procedure enables the doctor to have a straightforward view of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) series such as the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum.  This is carried out by fiber-optic endoscope that is an insertion of a small thin tube in mouth via the oesophagus into the stomach for a thorough examination of any inflamed, ulcerated infected areas, including growths and malformations.


Barium Meal

This is another option for diagnosis, where the patient is administered a white chalky like fluid, which enables proper visibility of the ulcer on the X ray.


Blood Sample

For confirming the presence of H. pylori, a test is performed using a blood, breath, or tissue sample.  A blood sample helps identify and measure the presence of H. Pylori antibodies in the body.


Breath Test

This procedure is carried out by administering a fluid along with a protein capsule.  On swallowing the protein capsule, the individual subsequently blows air into a balloon by means of a straw, and the exhaled air is tested for existence of H. pylori bacteria, in the laboratory.


Treatment Options

Depending upon the severity and cause of the condition appropriate treatment is provided to the patient, to get rid of the underlying causes.


If the ulcer is due to the presence of H. pylori medications such as a proton pump inhibitors (PPI) or histamine receptor blockers (H2 blocker) and mucosal protective agents are often prescribed to reduce stomach acid and protect the stomach lining and destroying the bacteria.  This apparently prevents the risk of recurrence without causing further complications. Mostly these medications are given in combination with the prescribed drugs to alleviate the symptoms and accelerate healing. If medications do not have the desired outcomes in case of serious or life-threatening complications of stomach ulcers, surgery may be recommended.  However, besides these methods of treatment, certain lifestyle changes are suggested to prevent the risk of recurrence.


Prevention Methods
  • Quit smoking
  • Maintenance of good hygiene and cleanliness to prevent recurrent infections due to bacteria, H.pylori.
  • Avoiding or regulating the use of NSAIDs


Diet Recommendations

  • Consuming Foods rich in flavonoids that reduce the growth of H. Pylori.  These includeapples, celery, cranberries onions, garlic, and tea.


    Fruits (Image source: morgueFile.com)

  • Increase intake of vegetables and fruits containing loads of antioxidants.
  • Foods abundant in B vitamins and calcium like almonds, beans, whole grains, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale is highly recommended.
  • Avoid spicy food.
  • Refined foods such as Pasta, bread and sugar should be avoided.
  • Increased consumption of lean meat, cold-water fish, tofu, beans for protein and cutting down on red meat will be useful.
  • Usage of olive or vegetable oil is beneficial for this condition.
  • Avoiding junk foods, with elevated trans fatty acids as found in baked goodies, cookies and fried stuff.
  • Avoid consumption of coffee, alcohol, and carbonated beverages, which have a tendency to cause irritation in the stomach lining with increased secretion of stomach acids.
  • Consumption of 6 – 8 glasses of water every day may prove beneficial.


Lifestyle Modifications

  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week.
  • Reduce stress
  • Follow relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong, or meditation to reduce the pain and alleviate the symptoms.


“Eat to live and don’t live to eat” for a healthy life.