The risk of facing peptic ulcer disease is at least one in every two hundred people in the world. The good news is that this disease is treatable, the main thing is to be able to recognize it in time.
What is a stomach ulcer
In fact, ulcers can occur not only in the stomach, but also in the part of the intestine that is located just behind the stomach. And since the cause of both problems is the same, it is more correct to call the disease not “stomach ulcer”, but “gastric ulcer or duodenal ulcer”, or peptic ulcer disease.
Our stomach is a muscle sac, which contains pungent gastric juices from a mixture of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid. Muscles stir the food that has entered the stomach, and gastric juice kills microbes and breaks down food into components, which are then partially absorbed in the intestines. The organ protects from self-digestion by mucus, which is secreted by the inner lining of the stomach – mucous membrane.
With a peptic ulcer, inflamed areas appear on the mucous membrane of the stomach or duodenum. And since the inflamed membrane secretes less mucus than is needed for protection, hydrochloric acid and enzymes begin to corrode the walls of the stomach. As a result, a person feels a dull or burning pain that can occur in the area between the navel and the sternum.
Why does peptic ulcer disease occur?
Infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).
About half of the world’s population coexists with H. pylori. It is very easy to catch a bacterium, because the infection is transmitted not only through water, food and cutlery, but even through innocent kisses – so most people become infected as early as childhood.
Once in the stomach, the bacteria begins to produce substances that damage the mucous membrane. In response to an invasion, cells in the human body can trigger an immune response. If this happens, inflammation begins. This can lead to indigestion, gastritis, peptic ulcer disease, and even increase the likelihood of developing stomach cancer.
At the same time, most people infected with H. pylori do not have problems – over millennia of evolution, the human body has adapted to neutralize the harm that bacteria can cause to mucous membranes. The containment mechanism fails in only a few people, and the exact reasons why the bacteria get out of control are not yet known.
According to statistics, about 1% of carriers of H. pylori develop peptic ulcer disease, which is 6-10 times higher than in uninfected people. And if we consider that the bacterium lives in about half of the world’s population, it turns out that every two hundred people in the world have a chance to get peptic ulcer disease due to bacteria.
How to understand that you have a peptic ulcer
The most common symptom is burning abdominal pain, which has certain characteristics:
- starts between meals or at night
- stops if you eat or take an antacid,
- lasts from several minutes to several hours,
- appears and disappears for several days or even weeks.
Sometimes with a peptic ulcer, appetite is spoiled, sour belching and nausea appear, blood in the stool (black stools). Vomiting may occur, and weight loss occurs.