Stomach ulcers, or gastric ulcers, are inflamed patches that develop on your stomach lining. They happen when the acid inside your stomach damages the lining, leading to an open sore.
Sometimes, stomach acid can cause similar sores in the first section of your small intestine (duodenum). These ulcers are also called duodenal ulcers.
The most common causes of stomach ulcers are Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections, although other gastrointestinal tract infections can also lead to stomach lining damage. H. pylori is a type of bacteria present in the digestive systems of up to 75% of people. An H. pylori infection doesn't always cause symptoms, but it can cause stomach lining inflammation and increase your risk of a stomach ulcer.
Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also inflame your stomach and cause gastric ulcers. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are available over the counter and by prescription and are commonly used to treat pain and inflammation. Overusing these drugs, taking them for a long time or combining them with certain other medications can make stomach ulcers more likely.
Doctors used to believe that stress and spicy food could increase the risk of stomach ulcers. While these factors can make an existing ulcer worse, it's now known that they don't cause stomach ulcers to develop.
Anyone can develop a gastric ulcer, but the risk increases as you age. Stomach ulcers are more common in seniors because older adults are more likely to contract H. pylori infections. Furthermore, doctors are more likely to prescribe or recommend NSAIDs to older adults if they develop an age-related health condition, such as joint pain.
The most common symptom of stomach ulcers is burning or gnawing stomach pain. Other symptoms may include:
Severe stomach ulcers can bleed and cause more severe symptoms. You may notice red or black blood in your vomit or stools when this happens. A stomach ulcer can also make you feel faint or cause more severe nausea or vomiting, potentially leading to weight loss. Peptic ulcers can sometimes cause complications, so it's essential to visit your doctor when you notice symptoms.
Before treating a peptic ulcer, your doctor may perform tests to confirm the diagnosis. The most common test is an endoscopy, which involves inserting a small tube with a tiny camera into your stomach via your throat. This allows the doctor to examine the inside of your stomach. They may also order X-rays or CT scans and test you for an H. pylori infection.
The best treatment for a stomach ulcer depends on the cause. If you have an H. pylori infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing your symptoms. They may also prescribe medications to neutralize the acid inside your stomach or reduce stomach acid production.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing a stomach ulcer as an older adult. Washing your hands regularly and cooking your food thoroughly are effective infection control methods and can reduce the risk of contracting an H. pylori infection.
The Mayo Clinic recommends using NSAIDs with caution to minimize the chances of developing a stomach ulcer. Your doctor can advise you on how to take NSAIDs safely and may prescribe medications to protect your stomach lining if you need to take them long-term. The following tips can also reduce the risk of stomach inflammation while taking NSAIDs:
If you develop a stomach ulcer, certain risk factors may make the inflammation worse or recovery more difficult. Smoking, consuming alcohol and spicy foods can all cause stomach ulcers to worsen. Chronic stress is also associated with more severe symptoms. Therefore, you can increase your chances of a good recovery by quitting smoking if you use tobacco, cutting down or eliminating alcohol and avoiding spicy meals.
Stress management techniques can also help prevent a stomach ulcer from worsening. Your doctor may recommend meditation, mindfulness or other calming techniques to manage stress. The health care team at Broadmoor Court is always on hand to help you cope with stress and enjoy a relaxing, vibrant lifestyle in your assisted living community.