Teach Me

Am I Giving Myself an Ulcer?

Certain stresses in our lives can’t be avoided. And when life gets too stressful, we often answer with late nights, poor diet and pot after pot of coffee. It’s a cycle we’ve all experienced. So, could this vicious spiral lead to an ulcer?

An ulcer is a sore that develops on the lining of the stomach, small intestine and in some cases, the esophagus.The most common symptom is a dull or burning pain in your stomach.

We asked Jeffrey Fein, MD, a gastroenterologist with Banner Health in Arizona, about how today’s lifestyles could be affecting our bodies and potentially lead to this painful condition.

NSAIDs could be to blame

Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, aspirin (including baby aspirin) and Aleve are all examples of common NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Whether you take them to relieve a headache or other chronic pain, “when taken daily or multiple times per week, they can lead to an ulcer,” said Dr. Fein. Taking these otherwise innocuous pills over an extended period of time could lead to ulcers for anyone, but your likelihood increases if you:

  • Are age 60 or older
  • Are female
  • Have had a peptic ulcer before
  • Have two or more medical conditions or diseases
  • Are taking other medicines, such as corticosteroids like prednisone, and medicines to increase your bone mass
  • Drink alcohol or smoke

Check for bad bacteria

If a patient has symptoms suggestive of an ulcer, such as upper abdominal pain, doctors may check for H. pylori, a bacterium found in the stomach. If the bacteria is identified it can be treated with a combination of antibiotics and anti-acid medicine. Although H. pylori infections can often stay dormant for years, 30-40% of Americans will develop the infection at some point in their lives. Adults with the bacteria can develop ulcers as a result. H. pylori damages the lining of your stomach and duodenum (the first portion of your small intestine, just beyond the stomach).

What about coffee and alcohol?

“Coffee, alcohol, and caffeine do not cause ulcers,” said Dr. Fein. But before you stop to celebrate with another cup, he added that these things do increase your likelihood for gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux, which leads to bigger issues as the lining of your stomach and esophagus are damaged.

Dr. Fein said the same about stress and some foods. While they do not directly cause ulcers, an unbalanced diet and lifestyle could be at the root of your stomach pain.

Do I have an ulcer?

If you are experiencing persistent upper abdominal pain or if the pain is getting worse, you should see a physician. Dr. Fein added that in some cases, you may not feel pain right away. For some, gastrointestinal bleeding may be the first sign. Black stool is an urgent symptom and should be taken to an emergency department right away.

When life gets stressful, be sure that you are taking care of your gut. Take a look at these similar articles for more tips to stay happy and healthy:

Gastroenterology Nutrition Wellness