It is not uncommon to suffer from an ulcer, but did you know there are seven different types of ulcer? The symptoms of ulcers can be similar, but it is important that correct form is diagnosed. Generally we use the term stomach ulcer, but in fact ulcers can be found in various parts of the digestive system. They are caused by a variety of factors, and there is some dispute over the validity of some apparent causes. In the following article we will take a look at the different types of ulcers, the symptoms you should look out for, the causes of ulcers and the treatment needed to get rid of them. Let’s start by talking about the symptoms, as this is one o the most important aspects of the subject.
It is important that we remind you the symptoms of ulcers can be different between the various types, but there are similarities with general symptoms. The standard signs that you may have a stomach ulcer or other type of ulcer are as follows:
- Abdominal pain – caused by the inflammation of the stomach lining, and also by build up of gases
- Heartburn – otherwise known as acid reflux, is caused by a slowing down of the digestive system
- Discomfort after meals – also related to the above, generally a couple of hours after eating
- Anaemia – iron deficiency can come about as a result of the bacteria involved in causing ulcers
- Bad breath – again a cause of the bacteria
- Constipation – the bacteria causes the loss of food processing
- Nausea and vomiting – apparently caused by the bacteria
These are some of the main symptoms associated with stomach and other digestive system ulcers, but it is vital to understand they can also occur with other conditions. There are a number of lesser or secondary symptoms that can also manifest, including:
- Anxiety and depression
- Fatigue and general tiredness
- Unusual headaches
- Sinus and sleep problems
- Abnormal weight gain or loss
You should understand that most ulcers are very easy to treat, but there is one exception – bleeding ulcers – that can cause serious problems. We will talk more about bleeding ulcers in the next section, which covers the various types of ulcer.
Types Of Ulcer
As mentioned in the introduction there are seven different types of ulcer that occur in the digestive system: three are quite common, while the remaining four are less so. Let’s start with the three most common forms of ulcer:
- Peptic Ulcers: while all the other types of ulcer are named after the place where they occur, the peptic ulcer can be found in many different places. The name refers to the presence of pepsin, a substance found in the digestive system, and a peptic ulcer can occur in the stomach, the duodenum or the oesophagus. It is the most common of all the ulcer types, and is simple to treat.
- Gastric Ulcers: a specific term that applies to an ulcer found within the stomach itself, gastric ulcers are also quite common and can be treated easily.
- Duodenal Ulcer: an ulcer found in the duodenum, it can be a peptic ulcer but is defined by its location. Again, not uncommon and easy to treat.
The above three make up the majority of ulcers found in common cases; the following four are lesser known and less common occurrences:
- Oesophageal ulcers: found specifically in the oesophagus, this type of ulcer is associated with serious acid reflux.
- Refractory ulcer: this is a term that is applied to any peptic ulcer that has not responded to treatment over a given time.
- Stress ulcers: these are found in patients who are seriously ill or stressed, and are quite rare.
- Bleeding ulcers: the most dangerous of all ulcers, bleeding ulcers are those that have been left untreated and have begun to bleed. Internal bleeding is a very serious matter and needs urgent medical attention, and leaving bleeding ulcers unattended to can have serious consequences.
As you have probably gathered all the above types of ulcer are actually peptic ulcers with specific names to identify their whereabouts. Fortunately, treatment for ulcers is straightforward, and your doctor will be able to point you in the right direction once a diagnosis has been made.
There have been discussions about the causes of ulcers for many years, and it is now generally accepted that the main cause is bacterial. The stomach and digestive system, where ulcers occur, is a complex system that involves many substances and acids, needed to help break down the food we ingest. Put simply, the acid is very corrosive, so the body builds up a special barrier between it and the stomach lining. If this lining is breached, ulcers may be the result. The bacterium concerned is known as Helicobacter pylori and it is responsible for around 80% of cases. It is a fact that a quarter of people in western society become infected with the bacteria at some time during their lifetime. In most cases it remains in the stomach harmlessly, but in others it can cause ulcers.
The remaining 20% of cases of stomach ulcers are caused by non-natural means; by this we mean irritants such as aspirin and some anti-inflammatory drugs. If this is determined to be the cause of an ulcer, the patient will be put on alternative medication. There are a few other very rare causes of ulcers – some viruses, for instance – but contrary to belief you cannot ‘give yourself an ulcer’ by over-taxing yourself. It is, primarily, caused by the bacterium named above.
Treatment is usually by way of acid-suppressing drugs and/or a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria. This is usually a very successful course of action, and will be prescribed by your doctor. If your ulcer was caused by medicine you are taking, this will be changed accordingly.
Conditions Related To Ulcers
As we have said above, ulcers are surprisingly simple to treat, and as they are primarily caused by bacterial infection they can be resolved quite quickly. There are some conditions related to ulcers, but they tend to be secondary rather than primary. For instance, a loss of sleep and the general problems associated with ulcers can lead to stress and anxiety; some patients experience vomiting, the cause of which is largely unknown but is thought to be influenced by the bacterium; others may find they experience chest pains brought about by a reaction to the ulcer itself. In general, however, the symptoms described earlier are the main points to worry about.
Ulcers are quit a common problem, and we hope that this article has helped you understand the identifying symptoms and the causes, as well as reassuring you that ulcers can be treated easily with the right medical attention.