Can ulcers cause other health issues?

Disclaimer: All text and images published in this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional advice. Always consult a registered health professional regarding any health-related diagnosis or treatment options.

Ulcers are always unpleasant. The sensation of burning, bloating and abdominal pain due to ulcers can create a bump in your health.

What are ulcers?  

Ulcers are sores that don’t heal quickly. It can either be a result of an injury, an infection or an illness. When people talk about ulcers, they usually refer to sores in their stomach or duodenum, called gastric or duodenal ulcers.

Gastric ulcers occur when the stomach’s protective layer, “gastric mucous”, is eroded by digestive juices. Once the thinning of the layer starts, the digestive juice will begin eating away the stomach’s internal tissues leaving behind sores that can be serious. 

Several symptoms are associated with ulcers and can be cured easily, but they can develop into more serious health issues if you fail to seek medical help. 

Can ulcers in your stomach become cancerous too? 

Although scientists still do not fully understand why some people get gastric cancer and some don’t, researchers have found that some bacteria that causes ulcer also imposes a significant risk for serious problems like stomach cancer. 

Not only that, gastric ulcers can lead to numerous other health issues that may need immediate medical attention. 

Other severe medical issues an ulcer can cause:  

1) Ulcer Bleeding 

Ulcer Bleeding is a serious complication of gastric or duodenal ulcers, where symptoms can vary in severity and where pain in the upper abdomen is common. Ulcers can cause internal bleeding in the stomach or wherever they grow. 

Minor bleeding is usually not immediately severe, but it can be life-threatening when the bleeding is heavy. This is called hemorrhaging, which requires immediate medical intervention. An endoscopy is best for diagnosing and treating a bleeding ulcer but sometimes surgery is needed.

2) Perforated Ulcer 

When an ulcer is left untreated, the chances are that it can develop into holes, causing digestive fluids to escape into the abdominal cavity.

It is easy to notice a perforated ulcer as it comes with severe pain, spreading from the back to the shoulder and sometimes with vomiting. 

The treatment of a perforated ulcer starts with fixing up the hole, which can be done with surgery. There are also other treatments; all aimed to ease pain and treating the cause of the ulcer itself.

 

How do I know if I have a gastric ulcer?

A woman suffering from stomach ache can be a gastric ulcer symptom, gastroenterologist in Brisbane

It is possible that you may not see any symptoms of stomach ulcers, but when present, symptoms can include;

  • Burning stomach pain just below the ribcage
  • Presence of blood in vomit or bowel motions 
  • Intolerant to fatty and spicy food  
  • Feeling of fulness and bloating 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn 
  • Ingestion 
  • Vomiting 
  • Nausea 

But, H. pylori isn’t the only cause of stomach ulcer 

Although a majority of the gastric ulcers are due to the H.pylori bacterium, an ulcer can also be caused by other reasons, such as:

  • Certain medication like Aspirin, when taken regularly to prevent heart attack
  • Anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) 
  • Someone diagnosed with chronic gastric ulcers already 
  • Family history of stomach cancer 
  • Smoking 
  • Ageing

Scientists have found that the prevalence of Helicobactor pylori increases with age and can have an important role in developing ulcers in the elderly. 

It is thought that one in three Australians over the age of 40 is infected with this strain of bacteria and believe that the germ could be a contributing factor for the development of stomach cancers. 

How are gastric ulcers diagnosed?

A pathologist looking into samples for diagnosing gastric ulcer, gastroenterologist in Brisbane

The diagnosis and treatment of a gastric ulcer depend on the severity of your symptoms. 

To begin your diagnosis, your doctor will first review your medical history and perform a physical examination. Based on your preliminary results, your doctors may advise on further medical tests such as: 

1) A Medical test to identify H. pylori bacterium 

Your doctor may conduct a test to determine if the bacterium is present in your body through blood, stool or breath test. 

In most cases, a breath test is best recommended and can be carried out with ease. Everyone, including pregnant women and children, is safe to get a breath test. 

2) Upper Digestive System examination through Endoscopy 

During endoscopy, your doctor will pass a hollow tube with a lens (endoscope) through the throat to find ulcers in your stomach. 

In case an ulcer is identified, a small sample is removed for a biopsy. The biopsy will also determine if the bacterium is present in the stomach lining too.

 

Ulcer diagnosis at Queensland Gastroenterology 

Our Gastroenterologists use endoscopy to diagnose inflammation, ulcers and abnormal growths on your stomach, large intestine or anywhere in the digestive tract and evaluate or diagnose various issues, including ulcers, bleeding, pain in the stomach and abdomen, painful swallowing and tumours. 

We also offer a state-of-the-art endoscopic procedure called Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS), which is non-invasive. Our doctors widely use this technology to determine small bowel tumours and obscure abdominal pain. 

Summary 

With minor health issues like heartburn or ingestion, it is advised to take medications like antacids, especially in younger patients. If these problems don’t respond to medications and recur, seek help from our doctors. 

You can request an appointment by filling this form, or if you prefer to make an appointment by phone, please call us at (07) 3324 1500. 

Authored by:

Queensland Gastroenterology and Professor Darrell Crawford

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