Stomach ulcers are a type of peptic ulcer. Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop on the inside lining of the stomach and the upper portion of the small intestine. This digestive tract injury in peptic ulcer usually results in a mucosal break greater than 3–5 mm, with a visible depth reaching the submucosa, which is the inner layer of the lining of the stomach and upper small intestine.
Peptic ulcers are of two types which are Gastric ulcers that occur on the inside of the stomach and Duodenal ulcers that occur on the inside of the upper portion of the small intestine (duodenum). The Harvard University states that peptic ulcer affects more than 4 million people in the United States each year; and 1 in 10 individuals develop a peptic ulcer at some time. Peptic ulcer can occur at any age. Specifically, however, Duodenal ulcers usually appear between ages 30 and 50 and are more common in men than women. Stomach ulcers tend to occur later in life, after age 60, and affect women more often than men.
Based on data from the Global Burden of Disease, Injuries and Risk Factors (GBD) Study, the disease burden and deaths due to peptic ulcer decreased significantly from 1990 to 2019, while a gradual upward inclination has been observed in recent 15 years, which might be associated with changes in some risk factors for the disease.
What causes Stomach Ulcer?
Both stomach and duodenal ulcers are caused by the same mechanism. This damage caused by the breakdown of the stomach lining resulting in stomach ulcer is usually caused by
An infection with a type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin – particularly if they’re taken for a long time or at high doses
These can break down the stomach’s defence against the acid it produces to digest food. The stomach lining then becomes damaged causing an ulcer to form.
Contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence that stomach ulcers are caused by spicy foods, stress, and alcohol. These are risk factors and can however, make the symptoms worse. Genetics and use of steroid drugs are also risk factors for developing ulcers.
What are the symptoms of stomach ulcer?
The commonest symptom of stomach ulcer is upper stomach pain. Other symptoms that indicate a stomach ulcer are:
Discomfort between meals or during the night (this is more for duodenal ulcer)
Discomfort shortly after meals or a drink (more common in gastric ulcer)
The stomach pain can wake a person at night
Feeling full very easily
Bloating, burning or dull pain in the stomach
Pain is intermittent and can disappear for a period of time
The discomfort can last for minutes or hours
The complications of an ulcer occur if the ulcer becomes perforated (torn), it becomes a bleeding ulcer. This can cause more serious symptoms like:
Unexpected weight loss
Blood in the stool or dark stools
Pain in the back
Fainting, dizzy spells from excessive blood loss, hemodynamic instability, and collapse from blood loss.
Peritonitis, in which the ulcer bores a hole through the wall of the stomach or small intestine.
Formation of scar tissue, and
Pyloric stenosis, a chronic inflammation in the lining of the stomach or duodenum
It is important to note that peptic ulcers can recur. Having a first ulcer increases the risk of developing another one later.
How to live with an ulcer.
It is possible to live as normal life as possible with an ulcer. A person with ulcer is usually advised to avoid the things that make the ulcer pain worse. This generally means to avoid spicy foods and flavorings that induce the stomach to produce acids, such as chili powder, garlic, and black pepper. avoided.
Caffeine, alcohol and smoking all have the same effect and should be avoided too.
The diet should be rich in easily dissolvable or soluble fibers and vitamin A. Such fiber-rich foods include oats, apples, oranges, carrots, psyllium husk, legumes, flax seeds, nuts and barley.
Foods like liver, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, and collard greens are rich in vitamin A. A balanced diet is therefore very important for health living. It is better to eat small, frequent meals during painful episodes.
A doctor should be consulted if it is necessary to have to take aspirin or ibuprofen for chronic pain to suggest an alternative drug.
Drugs can also be prescribed during painful episodes to reduce the pain, reduce the acid production by the stomach, and also to promote the healing of the lining of the stomach. A combination of these with healthy lifestyle practices like exercise are essential for healthy living with an ulcer.
How to sleep with stomach ulcer
Sleeping with a stomach ulcer, especially during the painful episodes can be very challenging. The pain caused by peptic ulcer is usually worse at night and can stop an individual from sleeping.
The following tips may be useful.
- Adjusting the sleeping position. Sleeping on the back with the head elevated canpotentially make it more difficult for stomach acid to reach and irritate the ulcer. It can also reduce the compression of the digestive system thereby reducing the ulcer pain.
An alternative maybe sleeping on the left side. This can also cause less compression of the digestive system and less ulcer pain. sleeping on the stomach is usually NOT recommended and worsens ulcer pain.
- Eating at least 3 hours before bedtime. Eating a meal or big snacks before bedtime stimulates the digestive system and increases the production of acid. This will make it difficult to sleep due to a feeling of bloating and can make the ulcer worse. It is also important to avoid caffeine before bedtime to avoid the stimulation and increased production of acid associated with caffeine.
- Avoid use of electronics like computers, phones during bedtime or leaving the TV on during sleep. It is important to have a cool, dark environment which will be conducive for a good sleep.
- See a doctor for diagnosis and treatment of ulcer. It is important to have ulcer properly diagnosed and treated with medications prescribed by a doctor. This usually helps to reduce the acidity of the stomach by neutralizing it or decreasing its production and also helps in healing of the ulcer. These will reduce the pain and symptoms associated with stomach ulcer and lead to better sleep.
If you have ulcer and are still finding it difficult to sleep despite the above measures, do visit your doctor again and complain so more medications can be prescribed or more tests carried out to confirm the cause of the pain and be sure there are no other issues.