Treatments for a Stomach Ulcer
by Brad McHargue
A stomach ulcer, known more broadly as a peptic ulcer and more specifically as a gastric ulcer, is a sore or erosion that forms on the lining of the stomach or the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Treatment involves a combination of medications and preventative measures designed to prevent the build-up of acid and lower the risk of developing an ulcer.
Causes and Symptoms
The most common cause of a stomach ulcer is the bacterium helicobacter pylor (H. pylori). It lives in the lining of the stomach, and though normally no cause for concern, can often interfere with its protective lining, causing inflammation and leading to an ulcer. Other causes include excessive use of pain relieving medication, which can cause irritation of the stomach; and smoking and consuming alcohol in excess, which contributes to the build-up of acid and the irritation of the stomach lining. Spicy foods, acidic drinks and stress can raise the risk of stomach ulcers, though they are not a direct cause.
The primary symptom includes a burning pain in the stomach, caused by the ulcer itself. The pain is made worse when the ulcer comes into contact with stomach acid. Other possible symptoms include nausea, vomiting (often with blood), weight loss, chest pain, a change in appetite, or blood in the stools.
Medical treatment of a stomach ulcer involves two things: killing the bacteria (if caused by it) and reducing acid levels in the digestive system. This is done through a combination of medications, often utilizing two or three at a time depending on the severity of the ulcers.
The most common method of treating stomach ulcers are the antibiotics amoxicillin, clarithromycin and metronidazole. At times at least two of these antibiotics are used in conjunction with medications designed to suppress acid production, such as Helidac and Prevpac, which were designed strictly for the treatment of the H. pylori bacteria.
Acid blockers may be prescribed, but are also available over-the-counter. Also known as a histamine blocker, they work by preventing histamine from reacting with histamine receptors, which in turn signal cells in the stomach that secrete acid. Examples include ranitidine, famotidine, cimetidine and nizatidine.
Proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and esomeprazole (Nexium) can be used to inhibit the functions of the pumps found within the cells that secrete acid. In addition to this, they can also be used to lower the risk of and promote the healing of bleeding ulcers. Long-term use can lead to the possibility of hip fractures, and as such a doctor may recommend calcium supplements. This type of treatment is typically used for stomach ulcers not caused by the H. pylroi bacteria.
Finally, protective agents such as bismuth subsalicylate, known more commonly as Pepto-Bismol, can be used to coat the lining of the stomach and thus protect the tissues. While Pepto-Bismol is found over-the-counter, prescription sucralfate and misoprostol can be used as well.
Alernative Treatment and Prevention
Should the ulcer recur, the most common culprit is failure to follow the instructions on the medication or continuing to use contributing factors such as alcohol and tobacco. In this case, treatment involves the elimination of these risk factors and increasing the dosage of the medication.
Prevention involves assessing possible risk factors and eliminating them. This includes the aforementioned alcohol and tobacco, avoiding non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and reducing your intake of spicy foods or acidic beverages, which can irritate the ulcer.