Ulcers: Why your lifestyle could be the cause

Plaisir Mutunzi, 34, a resident of Gashora sector, Bugesera district, Eastern province, started experiencing a burning pain in the abdomen; the kind that moves up to one’s neck, down to the navel and sometimes through the back.
The most common symptom of ulcers is a burning sensation or pain in the area between your chest and belly button. (Internet photo)
The most common symptom of ulcers is a burning sensation or pain in the area between your chest and belly button. (Internet photo)

Plaisir Mutunzi, 34, a resident of Gashora sector, Bugesera district, Eastern province, started experiencing a burning pain in the abdomen; the kind that moves up to one’s neck, down to the navel and sometimes through the back. The pain could last from a few minutes to a few hours, sometimes starting soon after eating a meal or starting two to three hours later. He was diagnosed with stomach ulcers six months later on visiting a health facility.

Meaning of stomach ulcers

According to http://www.healthline.com, a health website, stomach ulcers are painful sores that can be found in the stomach lining or small intestine. Stomach ulcers are also known as peptic ulcers. They occur when the thick layer of mucus that protects your stomach from digestive juices is reduced. Stomach ulcers are easily cured; however they can become severe without treatment.

Along with discomfort and pain in the abdomen, a stomach ulcer can cause nausea, vomiting, heartburn, poor appetite, and weight loss.

“You may feel better when you eat or drink and then worse an hour or two later.  There is usually a heavy feeling, bloating, burning or dull pain in the stomach,” says Dr. Joseph Kamugisha who works with Rwanda Military Hospital.

Health experts also explain that stomach ulcers can even lead to a hole in the stomach, which causes an extremely painful stabbing pain in the stomach and requires immediate surgery. A very small fraction of ulcers might signal cancer.

Causes

A type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is thought to be the cause of many ulcers. Acid and other juices made by the stomach can lead to ulcers by burning the lining of one’s digestive tract. This can happen if one’s body makes too much acid or if the lining of their digestive tract is damaged in some way. Esophageal ulcers or esophagitis occur when stomach acid makes its way up into the lower esophagus.

“Even though most people use anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen without problems, these drugs can sometimes damage the stomach lining and cause ulcers,” says Peter Rebero, a gastroenterologist attached to MedPlus Clinic, Remera.

Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, a rare disease that makes the body produce excess stomach acid, can also cause ulcers. For some people, physical stress (such as being sick for a long time) may cause ulcers. The role that emotional stress plays is not certain.

Certain factors and behaviors put people at higher risk of developing stomach ulcers. They include smoking, frequent use of steroids (such as those for treating asthma), hypercalcemia (overproduction of calcium), family history of stomach ulcers, being over 50 years old and excessive consumption of alcohol.

Dealing with ulcers

One way to treat ulcers is to get rid of the H. pylori bacteria. Treatment may also be aimed at lowering the amount of acid that one’s stomach makes, to neutralize the acid that is made and to protect the injured area so it can have time to heal. It’s also very important to stop doing things such as smoking or drinking, that damage the lining of one’s digestive tract, Rebero advises.

Studies indicate that risk factor substances such as regular and decaffeinated coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, meat extracts, alcohol, black pepper, chili powder, mustard seed, and nutmeg should be avoided. It is also advisable to always avoid foods like pepper that may irritate the gastro intestinal tract.

A diet for ulcers and gastritis means eating foods that are mildly flavoured and easy to digest. However, there is no scientific evidence to show that there is one correct diet for every person with stomach problems.

“Keep the diet balanced. Do not avoid foods unless they have bothered you more than once. If a person takes alcohol or caffeine drinks, it should be only when you are eating and in small amounts. Eating small, frequent meals when one is having pain may help you feel better,” Dr Kamugisha remarks.

He encourages people to plan their meals and stick to the foods that the stomach tolerates best.  People who should be extra careful with their meals include those with stomach surgery, nausea, vomiting (throwing up), and too much gas.

For the case of peptic ulcers; a high protein intake is recommended to provide essential amino acids for tissue protein synthesis and thus promote healing. Proteins are also included because of their good buffering action. They may be increased by about 50 percent. However meat proteins are to be avoided because meat extractives have a stimulating effect.

“Though milk protein has a good buffering action, the high calcium content of milk stimulates excess acid production. Therefore, a high milk intake has an adverse effect on the healing rate of ulcers. Thus milk should be used in moderation. Eggs and other protein foods need to be included to provide essential amino acids,” observes Alfred Gatabarwa, a general practitioner with Abbey Family Clinic Remera.

Requirements of nearly all vitamins remain normal. Adequate amount of vitamin C should be provided for the healing of ulcers and better iron absorption.

Care should be taken to include sources of iron and calcium in the diet. Generally, blend diets are found to be low in iron and vitamin C due to the restriction in fruits and vegetables and medicinal supplements may have to be given.

It is important to limit the intake of tomatoes, tomato juice, fatty foods, and citrus juices. To some people, these foods may cause heartburn or pain in the oesophagus. There may be need to limit seasonings such as onions, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves if they upset your stomach.

Working closely with your doctor regarding treatments and warning signs of a larger problem is the best way to ensure your stomach ulcer remains a minor irritation and doesn’t become a larger problem.

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