Stress can contribute to the development of many diseases and it can exacerbate the symptoms of existing conditions. This includes stomach, or peptic, ulcers. While stress alone does not cause peptic ulcers, learning to manage stress can help to control symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. The first step is to understand what a stomach ulcer is and the role stress plays in this condition.
A peptic ulcer is diagnosed when the lining of the stomach, small intestine or esophagus develops sores, states the Mayo Clinic. Peptic ulcers are caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori. For reasons not well understood, this bacteria, which normally exists in the lining of the stomach, can sometimes cause an inflammation of the stomach or intestines. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or osteoporosis medications, heavy alcohol consumption and stress can all make the symptoms of this condition worse.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the symptoms experienced with a stomach ulcer vary from person to person. The most common is abdominal pain that occurs between the breastbone and the belly button. It tends to be worse between meals and first thing in the morning when the stomach is empty, although some patients never have any symptoms at all. The pain may last for minutes or hours. Fatigue, gas, nausea, vomiting, weight loss and loss of appetite are other warning signs.
In times of stress, there are many reactions that take place in the body to prepare it to fight or flee. Blood and oxygen flow to the muscles and brain is increased to improve reaction time. The immune system is suppressed to conserve energy. While there is no exact link between stress and the development of stomach ulcers, the stress response can also increase stomach acid production, warns Merck. This increase in acid production, may make symptoms such as abdominal pain worse. In addition, feeling stressed may lead to choosing unhealthy behaviors such as drinking, smoking and poor eating habits, all of which can contribute to stomach ulcers.
Peptic ulcers can be cured, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Treatment must be a multidisciplinary approach. This includes eliminating medications that may be causing the ulcers and replacing them with other medications, taking antibiotics per a doctor's orders, taking medications to reduce stomach acid and, in rare cases, surgery. Avoiding spicy foods and managing stress will also help to control symptoms.
There are several components of a successful stress management program. The American Psychological Association suggests first becoming aware of the situations that cause stress and examining your reactions to these situations. Avoiding stressful events or finding healthier ways to deal with them is a must. Becoming aware of the signs and symptoms of stress and then learning a relaxation or meditation technique to lower stress levels is important. Getting support from others and playing an active role in the treatment plan for a peptic ulcer will help to establish feelings of being in control, which can bring stress levels down.