That Peppery Stomach Pain Could Be Ulcer

By Dr. Okechukwu Amako, MBBS (Ibadan)
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Some people usually complain of having this peppery pain around the upper part of their tummy that gets worse after eating food. The pain can be so severe that it may prevent them from doing their normal activities. In some cases, a member of their family has had a similar pattern of abdominal pain.

A lot of people with this pattern of abdominal pain do conclude that it is an ulcer. They may not be wrong. However, it is important anyone with such abdominal pain sees a doctor to confirm it is ulcer because there are other disease conditions that present in a similar way.

Ulcer can affect the stomach or the beginning part of the small intestine called duodenum. Normally, the wall of the stomach is protected from the highly acidic nature of gastric acid (produced during food digestion) by layers of cells and chemical substances, and the secretion of gastric acid is under strict control to occur majorly for food digestion.

However, some factors arise in some people that override the strict control of gastric acid secretion, leading to the unregulated and prolonged secretion of this stomach acid. This prolonged exposure gradually starts eating away the protective cell layers down to the wall of the stomach or duodenum, leading to what is known as ulcer.

Some factors that predispose the stomach to this uncontrolled and prolonged gastric acid secretion include:

1. Infection by the bacterial organism called Helicobacter pylori. This microorganism is the cause of ulcer in most people with the disease. Its interaction with the stomach leads to suppression of processes that regulate gastric acid secretion. Infection usually occurs in childhood and may remain for life if not treated.

2. Long-term cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and intake of drugs like aspirin can lead to ulcer of the stomach or duodenum.

3. Ulcer can also result from emotional stress or it can be hereditary: runs in the family.

4. Some people with long-term disease conditions like kidney failure, liver cirrhosis, lung diseases and so on may be prone to unregulated gastric acid secretion which can cause ulcer.

People with ulcer will usually complain of:

-A burning or peppery pain around the upper part of their tummy which gets worse a few hours after eating food. Depending on whether it is a stomach or duodenal ulcer, the pain may or may not be relieved by food and drugs called antacids. The pain may also disturb sleep in many people, waking them up in the middle of the night.

-For those with a stomach ulcer, the pain may significantly affect their appetite, leading to weight loss in many of them.

If you have this pattern of abdominal pain, you should endeavour to see a doctor in a good hospital where you may be transferred to a specialist doctor called a gastroenterologist (specialized in treating diseases of the liver, the stomach, and the intestine). After the usual detailed medical history, the doctor will recommend very specific tests to confirm it is ulcer of the stomach or duodenum. Effective treatment involves three or four groups of drugs which are taken for about two weeks.

If the ulcer is not treated, it can progress to a stomach or intestinal bleeding, perforation of the intestine, or obstruction of the junction between the stomach and the duodenum which can result in vomiting and swelling of the abdomen.

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Published Tuesday, April 4th 2017

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