For a long time she bore on-and-off abdominal pains that normally worsened while asleep and after eating food, but little did Gorette Nyiransaba know that she could be suffering from stomach ulcers. Stomach ulcers are painful sores that can be found on the stomach lining or small intestine.
This occurs when the thick layer of mucus that protects one’s stomach from digestive juices is reduced, thus enabling digestive acids to eat away the lining tissues of the stomach.
Dr Eric Musengimana, a nutrition and diabetic specialist at Diet Therapy Company in Remera Kigali, says stomach ulcers are caused by a number of factors, including long term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, a rare disease that makes the body produce excess stomach acid, can also cause the condition, he says.
Musengimana adds that cases like excess acids (hyperacidity) in the stomach related to genetics, lifestyle (stress, smoking) and certain foods may lead to stomach ulcers.
The medic also says that risk factors like smoking, frequent use of steroids (such as those for treating asthma), hypocalcaemia (overproduction of calcium), family history of stomach ulcers, being over 50 years of age and excessive consumption of alcohol may increase possibilities of one suffering from stomach ulcers.
Dr Daniel Gahungu, a general practitioner at Polyclinic de l’Etoile in Kigali, says the most common symptom of stomach ulcers is a burning sensation or pain in the area between the chest and belly button (navel).
“Normally, the pain will be more intense when the stomach is empty and it can last for a few minutes or several hours,” he says.
Gahugu adds that besides the above, there are other symptoms which include a dull pain in the stomach, weight loss, loss of appetite because of pain, nausea or vomiting, bloating and heartburn (burning sensation in the chest).
Diagnosed through a blood, stool or breathe test, Gahungu says stomach ulcer pain may decrease when one eats, drinks or takes antacids which help treat stomach acidity by neutralising gastric hydrochloric acid or preventing the secretion of acid.
Medics say treatment of stomach ulcers may vary depending on the cause, and that in rare cases, surgery may be required. They add that in case of negligence or late treatment, there could be complications associated such as sudden sharp pain that doesn’t stop; black or bloody stool; and bloody vomit that looks like ground coffee.
Musengimana says hygiene and sanitation is the first to prevent the spread of bacteria and reduce risk of bacterial infection.
He also advises that people should endeavour to wash their hands with soap and water on a regular basis and make sure all food is properly cleaned and cooked thoroughly before it is consumed.
Musengimana encourages people to also avoid alcohol while taking medication and calls for healthy lifestyle habits to prevent ulcers.
The diet expert notes that avoiding tobacco products and properly managing stress can all contribute to a healthy stomach.
Musengimana recommends that eating a variety of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain and low-fat dairy foods can be of great help in keeping a healthy stomach.
“Whole grain like whole-wheat bread, cereals, pasta and brown rice are always good for the stomach. Eating lean meats, fish, beans, eggs, nuts and choosing a healthy fat like olive oil will keep your stomach safe from ulcers,” he says.