Stress at work, stress at home, poor diet, and hard living (you know what we mean) can ll lead to a more-than-subtle belly ache. What you may be experiencing is something far more serious than food simply “disagreeing with you” or gas – it would be an ulcer, specifically one that bleeds.
Ulcers are quite common in the general population. Many people who have ulcers are not aware of it as ulcers may often cause little or no symptoms. Ulcers can occur is any part of the gastrointestinal tract, however most are found in the stomach or duodenum, (the first section of the small intestine, closest to the stomach). By definition, an ulcer is a focal area of tissue destruction causing a crater in the mucosa (gut lining) compared to the surrounding tissue. Such erosions expose the deeper lying blood vessels in the intestinal wall to various acids and enzymes that normally control digestion in the intestinal tract, and thus can result in damage to these blood vessels causing the ulcer to bleed. These are no joke. Once bleeding has been identified actions need to be taken to eliminate your ulcers.
Gastric and duodenal ulcers can occur due to many reasons. Infection with the bacteria, Helicobacter Pylori, is the most common cause of both gastric and duodenal ulcers. Emotional stress weakens the lining of the stomach. Prolonged use of anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin and cigarette smoking are also an important cause of ulcer formation and ulcer treatment failure.
Bleeding ulcers may manifest in different forms and cause different symptoms. Up to half of patients may notice a gnawing or burning pain in the middle of the abdomen just beneath the breast bone (sternum). Other patients may not any symptoms or discomfort. A common sign of bleeding ulcers is passing dark black stools (melena) or blood and blood clots mixed with the stool. The resultant loss of blood can also cause other symptoms such as weakness, fatigue and dizziness. In such a case, the person’s skin may appear pale or they will develop shortness of breath with minimal exercise or physical exertion.
Bleeding gastric and duodenal ulcers can be life threatening and must be treated immediately. Symptoms should be discussed with a physician and often emergency room admission is required for adequate management. Medications, endoscopy and blood transfusions may be required on an emergent basis. Early recognition and prompt treatment can be life-saving. As we had said before, this is no joke and for more serious than simple heartburn or a stomach ache.
The most effective management of ulcers is gastric acid inhibition therapy. Proton pump inhibitors such as Omeprazole (Prilosec) are strong acid blocking agents that are used to heal gastric ulcers and gastritis. Such medications are generally to be taken regularly for a period of four to six weeks in most cases and may be obtained by prescription and over the counter. These medications are most effective if taken early in the morning approximately 30 minutes before eating breakfast. If present, concomitant Helicobacter Pylori eradication with antibiotics is recommended.
Gastric and duodenal ulcers pose a common but serious health problem. In the majority of cases they can be effectively managed with medications. Complications such as bleeding from these ulcers may occur and requires prompt diagnosis and management.
Realizing there is a potential ulcer forming in your stomach or intestinal tract is a very important first step. The second you think it’s not just a mere stomach ache go to your doctor go to your doctor and follow each necessary step in the road to recovery. Bleeding ulcers are painful, quite serious, and, unfortunately, quite common. Be safe and take your health as seriously as we do.