Peptic ulcers are a common ailment, affecting one out of every eight persons in the United States. Ulcers are open craters or sores that develop in the lining of the stomach, food pipe (esophagus) or first portion of the small intestine (duodenum).
The stomach produces a strong acid, called hydrochloric acid, which aids in digestion. The lining of the stomach is normally tough enough to resist the action of the acid. However, patients with peptic ulcers frequently produce an excess amount of acid which overwhelms the stomach. In addition, the lining of the stomach or duodenum may become weakened and more susceptible to acid damage.
Risk factors for ulcers that can be changed are:
Coffee and alcohol increase the amount of acid the stomach must handle. Aspirin and some arthritis medicines weaken the lining of the stomach, allowing acid to cause damage. Nicotine is a risk factor both for causing an ulcer and delaying its healing.
What Role Does Stress Play?
In the past, physicians tended to blame stress for producing many patients' ulcers. It is now known that all types of people — active, passive, aggressive and retiring — develop ulcers. Therefore, stress and emotions are recognized as minor considerations for most patients, even though they may be important risk factors for certain types of individuals.
What Is Peptic Ulcer Disease?
"Peptic Ulcer Disease" means there is a tendency, or possibility, to develop an ulcer, even though one may not be present at a certain point in time. The patient must be aware of this condition so that he or she takes measures to protect the stomach, even after one ulcer has healed. These steps involve altering certain habits, such as avoiding excessive coffee and alcohol and, especially, aspirin at ALL times, even in small doses. In spite of these measures, ulcers may return and require some treatment indefinitely.