Contrary to popular belief, coffee, citrus fruits and spicy foods do not cause peptic ulcers, though they may aggravate symptoms. – Filepic
Learn to identify the symptoms of these painful stomach sores in children.
PEPTIC ulcers are sores that develop in the lining of the stomach or duodenum (upper part of the small intestine). They occur when the mucosal layer that protects the lining of the stomach and/or duodenum is eroded.
Once the mucosal layer is too thin to provide adequate protection from the acids in the stomach, the lining becomes irritated.
Peptic ulcers are most common in adults above the age of 45, though it can affect people of all ages, including children.
Signs and symptoms of the disease include: severe and persistent abdominal pain, bloating, nausea or vomiting, unexplained weight loss or changes in appetite, black tarry stools (this may be an indication of bleeding in the stomach or small intestine), and vomiting blood (that may appear red or black in colour).
Contrary to popular belief, coffee, citrus fruits and spicy foods do not cause peptic ulcers, though they may aggravate symptoms.
In truth, no single cause has been found for these ulcers, though it is understood that a spiral-shaped bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, is an important cause for the disease.
Because of their shape and the way they move, it is easier for these bacteria to penetrate the protective mucosal lining of the stomach and produce substances that will weaken the lining. This makes the stomach vulnerable to damage from gastrointestinal acids.
If the amount of acid in your stomach is increased, or the mucosal lining is damaged, you could develop an ulcer.
Researchers believe the bacteria can be transmitted through:
- Contaminated food and water (oral-faecal route).
- Close contact, such as kissing or exposure to vomit that contains H. pylori.
To determine if your child has H. pylori infection and peptic ulcer disease, a doctor can conduct various tests, such as a urea breath test, to detect the bacteria. If clinically indicated, an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy is performed to look for an ulcer.
Another cause of stomach ulcers is the regular intake of pain relievers like aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Some 15-30% of patients who are exposed to NSAIDs develop gastro-duodenal ulcers.
These drugs can cause ulcers as they interfere with the stomach’s ability to protect itself from stomach acids. With the stomach’s defences down, digestive acids can damage the sensitive stomach lining, thus causing ulcers to develop.
The good news is, there are various effective treatments currently available for peptic ulcers. They include:
- A course of antibiotics to kill the H.pylori bacteria that is lodged in your system.
- Medications to reduce stomach acid and protect the lining of your stomach and small intestine.
- Medications that block acid production and promote healing.
Peptic ulcers also have a tendency to reoccur, so be sure to take all your medications as instructed by your doctor to prevent ulcer recurrence.
Here are some lifestyle changes that you can make to accelerate your recovery from peptic ulcers:
- Go for a healthy diet that is full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Manage your stress as this can worsen the symptoms of a stomach ulcer. If you know what your sources of stress are, try to avoid them.
- Stop smoking as this interferes with the protective lining of your stomach, making it easier for an ulcer to develop. It also increases stomach acid.
- Limit or avoid alcohol because an excessive intake of alcohol can irritate or erode the lining of the stomach and intestine, which will cause inflammation or bleeding.
If someone in your family displays any symptoms of peptic ulcer, seek immediate medical attention. A delay in diagnosing and treating these symptoms can lead to complications, and possibly surgery.
With timely medical attention and treatment, almost all peptic ulcers can be treated.
Dr Christopher Boey Chiong Meng is a professor of paediatrics and consultant paediatric gastroenterologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme and supported by an educational grant from Vitagen. The opinions expressed in the article is the view of the author. For further information, please visit www.mypositiveparenting.org.