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5 Things: Recognizing a Stomach Ulcer

Though I used to associate ulcers with stressed-out, Maalox-guzzling men, I'm now learning that this stomach malady is very common in young women. A few months ago, I quizzed you about whether you might be at risk for an ulcer, but even if you are, it's not the end of the world.

If you recognize your symptoms early enough, ulcers can be easily cured by prescription drugs and proper treatment. Here are five things you need to know about stomach ulcers.

  1. Despite what you may have heard, ulcers aren't caused by stress or spicy foods, though these factors, along with cigarette smoking, can aggravate ulcers or increase your risk of getting them.
  2. Ulcers, which are small tears in the stomach lining, are caused by two things: a bacteria called H. pylori and anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDs. The latter includes meds like aspirin and ibuprofen, which can cause tears in the tummy lining when taken on an empty stomach.
  3. Ulcer pain can feel very different from regular indigestion; many patients describe it as a burning or gnawing feeling between the bellybutton and the chest.
  4. The stomach upset caused by ulcers typically lasts anywhere from a few minutes to several hours and may be temporarily relieved by taking antacids.
  5. Foods that are high in acid, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and coffee, may exacerbate ulcer pain; alcohol can also make ulcers hurt more.

If you've noticed any of these patterns with your persistent stomach pain, it may be time to talk to your doctor. There are several tests he can run to determine whether you require treatment. Have you ever had an ulcer? If so, share your experiences below.

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