Ulcer Facts

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Ulcer Facts

Ulcers of the GI tract are generally referred to as "peptic" ulcers, since pepsin (an enzyme) is considered to be involved in their initiation and/or continued existence. They can be found in the walls of the stomach (gastric ulcers) or in the walls of the upper portion of the small intestine (duodenal ulcers). An ulcer is basically a spot where the interior wall of the organ (the mucosa) has been injured. It is not unlike an abrasion, contusion, or wound of the skin. Ulcers continually fail to heal because of the acidity and enzymatic activity in the stomach and the virtual constant motion (called peristalsis) of the GI tract as food is churned, mixed and propelled. The problem is not unlike that of a cut between one's fingers or on a portion of finger or hand; motion retards the healing process and also causes pain. Exposure to acidity also causes pain, not unlike when lemon juice (an acid) gets into an open sore or cut.

Such pain is the most notable characteristic (to a patient) of an ulcer. It may first be noticed in the early morning hours, when the stomach is empty and hunger stimulates the secretion of acid in preparation for a morning meal. This pain is sufficient to disrupt sleep. A few cups of breakfast coffee with a minimum of food intake; a lengthy/frustrating/nerve-wracking drive to work; more coffee and several stressful interactions with bosses/colleagues/subordinates all serve to stimulate further episodes of pain. Lunch may include several alcoholic beverages -- another stimulant for gastric secretions. Then, the afternoon reverses the morning schedule of workplace and commute "stresses." A few drinks before dinner, followed by an evening which includes: worries about bills, arguments with family members and other problems may precede bedtime. After a few hours of fitful sleep, the entire process is repeated.

The diagnosis of the presence of an ulcer, usually confirmed by an x-ray, is followed by an appropriate course of therapy, which may include one or more prescription drugs to reduce stomach acid secretion and to facilitate the healing process and a regimen of antacid. Hopefully, the ulcer(s) will heal and the likelihood of recurrence will be reduced.

Indeed, as part of a rational therapeutic program, antacids can help to reduce the likelihood of ulcer recurrence.

Can antacids, by themselves, either prevent the development of an ulcer? Can they, in the absence of other therapeutic agents, cure an existing ulcer? Probably not. Without a concomitant change in lifestyle -- modification of dietary habits, reduction in exposure to stressful stimuli or a therapeutic regimen including other medications, it is very unlikely that use of antacids alone will effect a cure or prevent ulcer occurrence/recurrence.

American Council on Science and Health, Inc.

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By Roger P. Maickel

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