Ulcers (stomach also known as gastric ulcers) are nasty little beasts. I know because I’ve been suffering with a duodenal ulcer since I was 20 years old and they are painful! I certainly hope you never have to put up with one.
A lot of people think they are brought on by stress and yes they can be, but they can be caused by a bacterial infection called Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxin, and even too much Tylenol, and sometimes prescription medications. If overused, these drugs can cause a hole in the stomach wall and can sometimes cause bleeding.
How do you know you have one? You will have abdominal/stomach pain (usually in the upper middle part of the abdomen – above the navel and below the breastbone) that feels like burning or gnawing, and can feel like it is going right through to your back. The pain can sometimes go away when you eat or drink something, but will return and become more intense as your stomach empties. Some signs and symptoms of an ulcer can include: dull pain in the stomach; weight loss due to not wanting to eat because of the pain; nausea or vomiting; bloating; burping or acid reflux; heartburn; pain that improves when you eat, drink or take ant-acids; anemia (tiredness, shortness of breath, or pale skin); dark, tarry stools; and vomit that is bloody or looks like coffee grounds. If you have ANY of these symptoms, please contact your Health Care Team right away to get diagnosed properly, as bleeding ulcers can become life-threatening!
Depending on how severe your symptoms are and the type of ulcer you have, your Health Care Team’s treatment may be to prescribe either prescription or over-the-counter medications. However, to rule out the nasty H.pylori infection, a blood, stool, or breath test may be ordered from your lab. You will be asked to drink a clear liquid and breathe into a bag, if having a breath test. The bag is then sealed. When H.pylori is present there will be higher-than-normal levels of carbon dioxide in your breath sample.
Other testing methods may be employed, such as: barium swallow (a thick white liquid is drank to coat the upper gastrointestinal tract so that the stomach and small intestine can be seen clearly on an X-ray); endoscopy/biopsy (a thin, lighted tube is inserted through your mouth and into the stomach and first part of the small intestine, where a biopsy can be taken, and will show ulcers, bleeding, and any abnormal tissue). The last time I was diagnosed with a gastric ulcer (last year) was via endoscopy and biopsy which determined that I had a non-H pylori gastric ulcer, so no infection, but there was a hole.
Most times an ulcer can be treated without surgical intervention, but if it has become severe enough, surgery may have to be an option. Prescription medication may do the trick, but in rare cases surgery may have to be considered. H.pylori ulcers require antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to help block the stomach cells that produce acid. Sometimes the Health Care Team may recommend: H2 receptor blockers (block acid production in the stomach); stop taking NSAIDS; follow-up endoscopy; probiotics (to help kill off H. pylori). In many cases the ulcer will quickly subside with the right treatment, but even if the symptoms go away, you are advised to continue with the medication prescribed by the Health Care Team, to make sure the H.pylori infection has been eliminated. Unfortunately, with most medications, you may experience side-effects such as: nausea; dizziness; headaches; diarrhea; or abdominal pain. These symptoms are typically temporary, but if they continue to cause problems contact your Health Care Team about changing the medication.
In very rare circumstances an ulcer may require surgery in the case of ulcers that: continue to return; don’t heal; bleed; tear through the stomach; or keep food from travelling properly into the small intestine. The surgery may include: removal of the entire ulcer; taking tissue from another part of the intestines and patching it over the ulcer site; tying off a bleeding artery; or cutting off the nerve supply to the stomach to reduce stomach acid production.
So what can I eat if I have an ulcer? Well, here are some foods that are recommended to help fight ulcer causing bacteria: cauliflower; cabbage; radishes; apples; blueberries; raspberries; blackberries; strawberries; cherries; bell peppers (not AIP); carrots; broccoli; leafy greens like kale and spinach; probiotic rich foods like yogurt, kefir, miso (not AIP), sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi; plant based oils like olive oil; honey; garlic; decaffeinated green tea; licorice (I use Deglycyrrhizinated licorice – DGL – every day); and turmeric (which I take 3 times a day). Foods rich in anti-oxidants may be helpful in eliminating H.pylori, activate your immune system to help fight the infection, and possibly protect against stomach cancer.
Now what you shouldn’t eat that will make acid reflux much worse is: coffee; chocolate; spicy food; alcohol; acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes; and caffeine. Also, eating two to three hours before bedtime will worsen acid reflux symptoms. If you are experiencing this issue, aside from seeing your Health Care Team, raise the head of your bed by about 6″ to help keep food down in the stomach. Whenever I experience symptoms, I have a spoonful of honey to help quell the burning. You could also try adding probiotics and glutamine rich foods like, chicken, fish, eggs (not AIP), spinach and cabbage.
What can I do to help prevent stomach ulcers? Wash your hands with soap and water regularly, and clean all of your food and cook thoroughly when needed. Stop using OTC (over-the-counter) NSAIDs or if you absolutely need to, make sure to only take the recommended dosage and avoid alcohol. Always take NSAIDs with food and adequate fluids. Plus, if you already have an ulcer – avoid NSAIDs period, as they will only make your situation worse.
I hope this information helps you, especially if you suffer with ulcers as I do.
Have an amazing rest of your day and week ahead.