Originally Published: January 26, 1996 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 6, 2007
How do you determine if you have an ulcer and what is the best medicine for it?
Dear Rip torn,
Ulcers can be a real pain! An ulcer is an open sore in the stomach or intestinal lining resulting from destroyed surface tissue. They are often uncomfortable and may eventually prompt heavy bleeding. Approximately 20 million Americans get one or more ulcers in their lifetime. Every year, about 4 million people are afflicted with an ulcer and about 6000 people die due to ulcer-related problems. Although ulcers are not restricted by age, they are uncommon in teenagers and especially children. Peptic ulcers, the most common, occur in the stomach (gastric or stomach ulcer) and in the duodenum (duodenal ulcer). Stomach ulcers are more common in women than men and duodenal ulcers are more common in men than women.
Most research today shows that an infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori leads to the majority of ulcers. Another cause of ulcers is an increase in the digestive fluids, hydrochloric acid and pepsin, especially in the presence of large doses of aspirin, ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). These can increase the risk of ulcers because they make the stomach vulnerable to the digestive fluids. Certain lifestyle concerns, such as long-term stress; excess food and/or alcohol; spicy foods; smoking; caffeine consumption; and other behaviors are also traditionally linked with ulcers (though causality is still undetermined). It is important to note that smoking does appear to slow down the ulcer's healing process.
Not all people have symptoms from an ulcer, but when they do, the most common is a burning pain in the abdomen. It usually happens early in the morning and/or between meals. Sometimes a person will feel nauseous, vomit, lose her/his appetite and weight. And for some, the ulcer may be a bleeding ulcer, with blood appearing in vomit or in the stool.
If you are concerned that you may be developing or have developed an ulcer, the first step is to see your health care provider. Only through proper diagnosis can any course of treatment be determined (ranging from medication to simple changes in lifestyle). Students at
Your best bet is to avoid ulcers and recurrence through moderation. Many believe that the best prevention of ulcers is to modify one's lifestyle. Doing your best to eat healthy and moderately, avoid tobacco use, limit alcohol use and being mindful of the stress you put yourself under may all help prevent ulcers. If you have to, take small doses of NSAID's, but never on an empty stomach. Finally, don't wait until you have an ulcer to do something about creating a healthier lifestyle.
For more information on ulcers, contact the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse by phone at 1–800–891–5389. They are a clearinghouse that will provide the public with information, answer inquiries, promote publications, and work with related agencies for resources about digestive diseases.
Here's hoping that you've got nothing to worry about!