Is it Just Heartburn?
We all have, at one time or another, experienced the discomfort of heartburn, or acid indigestion; perhaps too much spicy food, too much alcohol or a combination of foods that give us the all-too-familiar knot in the stomach. This is one of the most common complaints that one hears at the office. But what if that burning "pain in the gut" isn't heartburn? It could be the makings of a stomach ulcer, a potentially serious condition.
The Early Symptoms
Pain and burning in the stomach that becomes persistent, or progressively worsens, should not be taken lightly and the possibility of an ulcer formation should be explored. Early symptoms can include a sudden onset of pain in the stomach for no apparent reason. Occasionally this pain will ease after eating, but may return again a few hours afterward. Many people will experience this sudden pain in the middle of the night. It may well be readily relieved after taking an antacid.
Food Can Worsen Symptoms
Even though it has been said that early symptoms of a stomach ulcers may be relieved a bit with eating, the fact is that food can actually worsen the symptoms, and potentially the problem itself. Because a stomach ulcer is actually caused by the normal acid production in the stomach, the very act of eating stimulates additional acid production to break down the food. Once the protective layer of the stomach has been damaged, typically by a bacterium, the gastric acid goes to work on the lining itself. The more we eat, the more acid is produced.
Advanced Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers
If stomach ulcers are left untreated for any length of time, additional damage to the stomach lining can occur and this can lead to more serious symptoms. Many people with advanced ulcer disease have complained of lower back pain, loss of appetite, weight loss and dark, tar-colored stools, which is indicative of old blood in the feces. Additionally, ulcer symptoms are considered serious when medication no longer eases the pain.
Anemia and the Risk of Perforation
If the symptoms of gastric ulcers are left untreated for a long period of time, anemia can develop because of the slow progressive loss of blood in the stool from a bleeding ulcer. Furthermore, the more the stomach lining is damaged, the greater the risk of perforation of the stomach wall from progressive erosion by the gastric acid. Symptoms of anemia can include weakness, a feeling of constant fatigue and a pale appearance of the skin. Symptoms of a perforated gastric ulcer are serious indeed. There is sudden pain, fever, nausea and symptoms of peritonitis. This is a serious issue, demanding immediate medical attention and ultimately surgical intervention.