Acid Reflux and the Risk of Ulcers

You probably spend more time thinking about your stomach – what to feed it, when to feed it, how to keep it from sticking out so much – than any other organ. A minor problem with another part of your body might go unnoticed, but when there's something wrong with your stomach, you know it immediately.

Consequently, ailments like acid reflux and ulcers get a lot of attention. They're sort of "Everyman" diseases, striking old and young, rich and poor, many times regardless of lifestyle (though some lifestyle choices can make them worse). Since both acid reflux and ulcers are caused by acid, it's natural to think one will inevitably lead to the other. But that's not necessarily the case.

You see, acid reflux is the result of acid from the stomach rising up into the esophagus. This can happen because the stomach is over-full and the acid is forced upward, or because there's been some damage to the sphincter that separates the stomach from the esophagus. Contrary to popular belief, acid reflux does not happen because the stomach has produced too much acid. The amount of acid is irrelevant. It's the fact that the acid is bubbling up into the esophagus, where it does not belong, that's the problem.

Ulcers, on the other hand, are usually caused by infection from a bacterium called H. pylori. It's commonly believed that ulcers are the product of stress, but that's a myth. Stress can make the symptoms worse, or make the sufferer more aware of the symptoms, but stress does not cause the ulcer out of now. You could have the most stressed-out person in the world and you'd never get an ulcer if it were not for that pylori bacterium or some other specific ulcer-causing substance.

So while ulcers and acid reflux both involve stomach acid, their causes – and then their treatments – are very different. Having acid reflux will not cause you to get an ulcer, too. If you have both, treating the ulcer infection will take care of that problem, but it will do nothing for the acid reflux. That'll require its own separate treatment.

As with so many health problems, both ulcers and acid reflux can often be prevened through healthy diet and exercise. For acid reflux, it's important to avoid over-eating and eating fatty foods. Do not lie down right after a big meal, so eat meals early in the evening to give your food a chance to digest before bedtime. Remember that chocolate and peppermint (among other foods) can trigger reflux, as can alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. Losing excess weight and exercising regularly can also do wonders for preventing reflux.

Most of those precautions work for ulcers, too. In addition, aspirin and ibuprofen can cause ulcers, so taking those drugs as sparingly as possible may help prevent them. And get this: People with type O blood are 35 percent more likely to get ulcers than people with other types. So if you're an O, you would do well to take extra precautions.

Ultimately, there is little connection between ulcers and acid reflux other than the fact that they both have to do with stomach acid. Luckily, a healthy lifestyle can reduce the chances of getting either ailment, and there are adequate treatments available in case your precautions fail. For the most part, if you take care of your stomach, your stomach will take care of you.