An ulcer is a sore that is located along the digestive tract. This includes the esophagus, stomach, duodenum (beginning of the intestines), and the small and large intestines. Ulcers can be caused by a bacterial infection or medical condition that creates excessive stomach acid production. They also can be a side effect of a medication or the result of an injury that causes physical damage to the digestive tract. While stress does not actually cause ulcers, it can make the symptoms worse. If the symptoms of an ulcer appear, speak to a health care provider about treatment options available, including techniques to manage stress.
The most common symptom of an ulcer is burning pain that can occur anywhere between the stomach and breast bone, states the Mayo Clinic. The pain is created when stomach acid comes into contact with the sore and it may last for minutes or hours. The pain may get worse when the stomach is empty or it may flare up during the night.
Controlling stress will not cure the ulcer but it may help reduce symptoms. Finding time each day to practice a relaxation or meditation technique may help as part of an overall treatment program.
Nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, burping and feeling bloated are other possible symptoms an ulcer can cause. Symptoms may be present for days or weeks and then a patient may go through a period with no symptoms at all.
The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse claims that antibiotics are needed if the ulcer is caused by a bacterial infection. Medications to reduce stomach acid and protect the lining of the stomach may also be prescribed. This can be combined with lowering stress levels and avoiding spicy foods and alcohol.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine out of 10 ulcers are caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which means they can be cured with one to two weeks of antibiotics. In cases where medication is the cause, changing the drug or reducing the dosage can help heal the sore.
However, rarely ulcers can become serious and start to bleed. Blood may be present in vomit, urine or bowel movements. Left untreated this can lead to anemia and feeling weak and tired. To help prevent complications, see a medical professional as soon as symptoms occur.
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- Brooks Cash, MD, chief, division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, and Dan and Lillie Sterling professor of medicine, University of Texas McGovern Medical School.
- American College of Gastroenterology: “Peptic Ulcer Disease.”
- Canadian Society of Intestinal Research: “Stress and Your Gut.”
- Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. “Smoking and the Digestive Tract.”
- Nature Reviews: “Stress-related mucosal disease in the critically ill patient.”