Ulcers are the result of a disease of the gastric lining of the stomach or the duodenum (peptic ulcer). Ulcers are described as “mucosal erosions”, but are typically sores in the lining of the stomach or small intestine. Medical aids in South Africa provide adequate cover for the doctor’s visits and treatments for ulcers, so read more below about symptoms and treatment, and if you suspect you have an ulcer, go and get it checked out as soon as you can.
Causes of ulcers
Ulcers are commonly attributed to stress and bad diet, but initial infection of peptic ulcer disease is caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which thrives in the acidic conditions of the stomach. Stress and bad diet can cause an over-production of stomach acid, which exacerbates the ulcer symptoms. Sometimes using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause ulcers because of how the stomach lining reacts to the drugs.
Symptoms of ulcers
An acid-reflux-like pain near the stomach, especially after meals or during the night, is symptomatic of ulcers. Heartburn, bloating, nausea and/or vomiting are some of the milder symptoms, while more severe symptoms can include blood in the stool or vomit (usually dark blood), severe upper-abdominal pain, and loss of weight.
Diagnosis and treatment of ulcers
There are special diagnostic tests to determine the presence of ulcers and how serious they are. One is the barium and X-ray test, where the patient drinks a chalk-like liquid, which is distributed around the upper digestive tract and X-rayed to see if and where there are ulcers. Other tests include a gastroscopy, during which a fibre-optic camera is inserted down the throat and into the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum. This tiny camera gives the doctor an excellent view, which will allow him to see where the ulcers are and if they’re bleeding, etc.
Mild ulcers can be treated with medication, including antibiotics if the cause of the ulcers is due to the H. pylori bacteria. If severe ulcers don’t respond to medication, they will need to be operated on – any perforations or haemorrhaging will need to be closed.
Following treatment, the doctor will advise on specific lifestyle and diet changes that need to be made; foods to avoid and how to manage stress.