If you have abdominal pain, it could mean something simple, like you ate too much, you have the flu, or (if you’re a woman) you’re period is on the way. It can also point to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or other conditions.
In this blog post, Dr. Ayub Hussain discusses one of the common causes of abdominal pain — an ulcer — and how he treats it here at Northside Gastroenterology Associates in Houston and Cypress, Texas.
Ulcers go by a few different names, including gastric ulcer and stomach ulcer. If you get one at the top of your small intestine (the duodenum), it’s called a duodenal ulcer. They all fall under the umbrella term peptic ulcer because they all stem from too much pepsin in your stomach and intestines.
Pepsin is an acidic digestive juice in your stomach, and if you have more than you need or it leaks into your intestine, it can damage the lining of these organs, eroding the protective mucus layer and eating away your stomach and intestinal walls, and you develop an open sore or ulcer.
The ulcer begins in the organ lining, but as the acid continually irritates the wound, it grows, bleeds, and eventually burrows a hole straight through your stomach or intestine.
Ulcers and abdominal pain go hand in hand
Now that you know an ulcer is an open wound in your belly, it’s easy to understand why it causes abdominal pain.
Most people with ulcers say it feels like an intense burning pain or the worst case of indigestion they’ve ever had. Some describe it as a gnawing sensation in their stomach, which makes sense because that’s literally what’s happening inside — your stomach is eating itself.
You may notice that the pain subsides a little when you eat or drink, and chewing an antacid may give you some temporary relief. But the pain can flare up and dash your appetite between meals, when you’re hungry, and when your stomach acids are churning.
Sometimes, ulcers cause nausea and vomiting, signs you need treatment immediately.
Unfortunately, ulcers can also be sneaky and develop without any symptoms to warn you of their presence until they’ve advanced to a dangerous stage.
How do ulcers begin?
Yearly, about 4 million Americans develop peptic ulcers, and some point to our Western culture as the culprit, including high-stress levels and high-fat diets. Here are the most common causes of ulcers.
Bacterial infection involving Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the top cause of ulcers. Although H. pylori occur naturally in your stomach, it can multiply out of control and cause peptic ulcers by eroding your stomach’s protective lining.
Experts estimate that H. pylori infection causes about 40% of gastric ulcers and 60% of duodenal ulcers.
Too many OTC painkillers
Nonprescription pain relievers can be harsh on your stomach lining. Aspirin, ibuprofen (Tylenol®), and naproxen (Aleve®) — medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — could lead to peptic ulcers, especially if you take them often. They irritate your stomach lining, increase stomach acid, and damage the protective layer.
Research indicates that about half of all peptic ulcers are linked to NSAID overuse, and about a third of people who take NSAIDs regularly have a peptic ulcer. The stats might make you think twice about whether you really need a pain reliever or if an ice pack and some rest are safer options for pain.
Excess alcohol consumption could be the underlying cause of your peptic ulcer because alcohol irritates your stomach lining and increases stomach acid, leading to inflammation and the potential development of ulcers.
Physical problems like injuries and illnesses can trigger a chain of events that throw off your body’s pH balance and intensify the acidic situation in your stomach.
Mental and emotional stress can also do a number on your gut. Studies show that folks who are under severe psychological stress or suffering from depression and suicidal ideation are more likely to develop peptic ulcers.
What to do if you suspect an ulcer
If you have abdominal pain, don’t try to self-diagnose it; it’s a common symptom with many causes. Dr. Hussain performs a thorough physical exam and runs blood and stool tests for H. pylori, so he can either confirm or rule out infection. If you have a bacterial infection, a round of antibiotics can address it.
Dr. Hussain may recommend proton pump inhibitors or histamine receptor blockers, medications that reduce stomach acid. Other medications can coat your stomach and protect the lining. While none cure an ulcer, they can create an environment that allows your ulcer to heal.
If you have an ulcer that has perforated your stomach or intestinal wall, you may need surgery to repair the hole.
Don’t wait for your ulcer symptoms to worsen — call now to schedule an appointment with Dr. Hussain or use our online booking tool.