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Abdominal Problems

Ulcers

Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

An ulcer (peptic ulcer) is a sore or crater in the lining of the digestive tract. Most ulcers develop in the stomach (gastric ulcers) or in the upper part of the small intestine (duodenal ulcers).

Until recently, the cause of ulcers was not well understood. It is now believed that most people who develop ulcers are infected with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria. Many people who are infected with H. pylori do not develop ulcers unless other factors are also present. Such factors may include:

Most ulcers that are not caused by H. pylori infection are caused by frequent use of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, indomethacin, naproxen sodium, clinoril, etc.), which can damage the digestive tract's lining.

The symptoms of an ulcer are often similar to symptoms of other stomach problems like heartburn (indigestion) or inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis). Symptoms may include a burning or gnawing pain between the navel and the breastbone. The pain often occurs between meals and may wake you during the night. Eating something or taking an antacid usually relieves the pain. Ulcers may also cause bloating, nausea, or vomiting after meals.

Most ulcers occur in the stomach (gastric ulcer) or in the opening to the small intestine (duodenal ulcer).

Ulcers can cause bleeding in the stomach, which may cause stools to turn dark red, black, or tarry. Without treatment, ulcers may occasionally cause a blockage between the stomach and the small intestine. An ulcer may break through (perforate) the stomach wall, causing severe abdominal pain. Ulcers that bleed or perforate the stomach wall require immediate medical treatment.

If you think you have an ulcer and your symptoms do not improve after 10 to 14 days of Home Treatment, make an appointment with your doctor. He or she can evaluate your symptoms and prescribe a treatment plan that may include antacids or other medications.

Home Treatment

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  • Avoid foods, especially alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods, that seem to bring on symptoms. It isn't necessary to eliminate any particular food from your diet if it doesn't cause you problems.

  • Try eating smaller, more frequent meals. If it doesn't help, return to a regular diet.

  • Stop smoking. Smoking slows healing of ulcers and increases the likelihood that they will come back.

  • Do not take aspirin or ibuprofen. Try acetaminophen instead.

  • Antacids (such as Tums, Maalox, and Mylanta) reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. Acid blockers (such as Pepcid AC and Zantac 75) reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces. Reducing the amount of acid in your stomach helps your ulcer heal. If you are taking antacids, you may need frequent, large doses to do the job. Talk with your doctor about the best dose. Also See Antacids and Acid Blockers.

  • Too much stress may slow ulcer healing. Practise the relaxation techniques on See Relaxation Skills.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If you have pain in the upper abdomen with chest pain that is crushing or squeezing, feels like a heavy weight on your chest, or occurs with any other symptoms of a heart attack (See Heart Attack).

  • If you have been diagnosed with an ulcer and you have severe, continuous abdominal pain, severe vomiting, blood in vomit or stools, dizziness or lightheadedness, or signs of shock See Shock).

  • If your symptoms continue or get worse after 10 to 14 days of treatment with antacids or acid blockers.

  • If you are losing weight and you don't know why.

  • If nausea or vomiting often occurs right after meals.

  • If abdominal pain awakens you from sleep.

  • If you have pain or difficulty when swallowing.

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