Affecting millions of Americans each year, a stomach ulcer is a raw, open area in the normal lining of the stomach. Stomach ulcers get their particular name depending on the exact location of the ulcer. For example, a duodenal or peptic ulcer is a stomach ulcer found in the first foot of small intestines past the stomach. A gastric ulcer in located inside the stomach itself. Although duodenal or peptic ulcers are almost always benign, it is important to remember that gastric or stomach ulcers can be malignant. Close medical management is critical.
A protective layer of mucus producing cells prevent the stomach from being destroyed by normal digestive juices and stomach acids. However, when there is a break in that protective layer trouble can occur. A stomach ulcer occurs when the gastric or intestinal mucosal lining of the stomach is destroyed by hydrochloric acid, an acid which is normally present in the digestive juices of the stomach.
Another cause of ulcers, particularly gastric and duodenal ulcers, can be a bacterial infection known as Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori. The helicobacter pylori bacterium may be transmitted from person to person through contaminated food and water and is treated with antibiotics.
One of the major symptoms of a stomach ulcer is pain, more specifically pain that feels much like a gnawing or burning pain in the middle upper abdomen often occurring some two to three hours after a meal. Often this pain is mistaken for heartburn or even hunger. Pain from a stomach ulcer may awaken you at night and may be relieved with food or milk.
Stomach ulcers are treated with prescription strength medications designed to reduce stomach acid, to protect the stomach lining and to treat the H. pylori bacteria, if it is present.
There are several medications that are commonly used to treat stomach ulcers. If the intent is to reduce stomach acid, then your physician may prescribe medications such as H2-Receptor antagonists like Nizatidine (Axid®), Cimetidine (Tagamet®), Ranitidine (Zantac®), or Famotidine (Pepcid®). Also used to reduce stomach acids are medications called Proton pump inhibitors. These types of medications include Omeprazole (Prilosec®), Esomeprazole (Nexium®), Lansoprazole (Prevacid®), or Pantoprazole (Pantoloc®). Medications used to protect the lining of the stomach include over-the-counter medications such as Rolaids or Tums or medications such as sucralfate, which forms a protective barrier over the site of the ulcer to help it to heal.
Stomach ulcers are certainly painful and can lead to additional complications such as bleeding. They require aggressive treatment directed by your healthcare provider in order to resolve the current ulcer and attempt to prevent future recurrences.