Peptic ulcers develop in the stomach or duodenum. In the stomach they are known as gastric ulcers and in the duodenum as duodenal ulcers.
An ulcer is an open sore in the lining of the stomach or duodenum, where the protective lining has worn or eroded away. This is made worse by the acid secretions in the stomach, which are there to aid digestion of food. Peptic ulcers occur in about 10% of the population, are more common in men and may also have an inherited factor.
It is now known that the vast majority of peptic ulcers are caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter Pylori (HP). This is particularly the case with duodenal ulcers. Helicobacter is spread by being in close contact with other people (e.g. between family members). The presence of this bacterium requires diagnosis by a medical specialist. HP is easy to treat with a combination of antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) – known as triple therapy. Rarely peptic ulcers can erode so deeply that they bleed or cause a perforation in the stomach. This is serious and requires immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of a peptic ulcer include upper abdominal pain and intermittent nausea. The pain is often triggered by certain foods or may even be helped by eating. It is often worse at night. Peptic ulcers can be asymptomatic.
Peptic Ulcer Diet
Trigger foods are spicy foods, high fat foods and very rich foods, very hot or very cold foods, alcohol, tea and coffee (including decaffeinated), and too many sweets and chocolates. Smoking and some medications, such as aspirin, can also cause peptic ulcers. Stress increases acid secretion by the stomach lining.
A suitable diet for helping to prevent peptic ulcers is one which is high in fibre, whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables, and with adequate essential fatty acids. Chewing food thoroughly, small frequent meals and the avoidance of late night meals are also helpful.
There may be a slight daily blood loss from a peptic ulcer, which may lead to anaemia, so a diet high in iron-rich foods may be important if an ulcer has formed. It is important to be in close and regular contact with your doctor if you are known to have a peptic ulcer. These days’ peptic ulcers are easy to treat with medication unlike in the past when the only treatment was diet and lots of antacids.
Eradicating the Helicobacter Pylori bacterium is essential and very significantly reduces the chance of recurrence of a peptic ulcer. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are thought to have a role in inhibiting this bacterium. EFAs also help by contributing to maintaining the correct balance of mucus and acids in the stomach. Also cranberry juice has been shown to block the action of helicobacter pylori in the stomach.