Gastric ulcers, also known as stomach ulcers are one of two types of ulcers that affect the stomach and small intestine. An ulcer can be defined as a break in the continuity of the skin or mucous lining due to multiple reasons such as acid overload, drug abuse, stress, and infections. Similarly, stomach ulcers are a discontinuity in the stomach lining that leads to various troublesome signs and symptoms. They occur when the thick mucus layer that protects the stomach from harsh acid and digestive juices is reduced or broken down. It allows acid to digest the tissues and stomach lining, causing a stomach ulcer.
Peptic ulcers (stomach ulcers + duodenal ulcers) are common among men and elderly around the world. They may affect 10-15% of the population. The most common causes of stomach ulcers include long term use of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Aleve, Advil, etc. and infection with the bacterium H. Pylori., Although spicy foods and stress don’t cause stomach ulcers, they can aggravate the underlying condition and make your symptoms worse.
The most common signs and symptoms of gastric ulcers include;
1) Upper Abdominal Pain
Although upper abdominal pain is the most common symptom, approximately 50% of people with stomach ulcers don’t experience this symptom at all. The affected person may experience an aching, burning or gnawing pain between the breast bone and the belly button (navel). Its aggravating factors include taking aspirin or NSAIDs, stress and spicy foods. It may also radiate towards the back. The pain can last for a few hours and may go and come back for weeks.
Interestingly, the pain of stomach ulcers aggravates when your stomach is empty while that of duodenal ulcers relieve in this condition. This is due to the fact that stomach acid and other digestive enzymes are diluted by the food you eat. Dilution of digestive secretions don’t cause irritation of the stomach lining and thus provide temporary relief. This association of pain aggravation or relief is also important to differentiate the origin of pain, i.e, stomach or duodenal ulcers.
The pain may become worse at night and 2-3 hours after a meal due to mucosal irritation by acid. It usually goes away for a while after you take an antacid or acid reducer. If your condition becomes chronic and you feel a sudden onset of severe upper abdominal pain, it can be due to perforation of the stomach ulcers that indicate a medical emergency and will be discussed later in this article.