First described in 1986, Cameron ulcers are always associated with hiatal hernias. They can be a serious, sometimes fatal, complication and need to be considered during any gastrointestinal examination. Once diagnosed, Cameron ulcers can be treated to mitigate their potential health risks.
A hiatal hernia is when the stomach protrudes into the opening of the esophagus. Small hiatal hernias rarely cause any symptoms at all, and people can live their entire lives without even knowing they have the condition. Larger hiatal hernias, however, allows food and stomach acid to travel up into the esophagus, causing a variety of problems. One of the complications can be Cameron ulcers, which are linear erosions along the gastric folds of a hiatal hernia. The ulcers are normally thin, superficial and non-bleeding, although they can become inflamed over time.
Cameron ulcers are found in 5% of hiatal hernia patients.
While the exact causes are still open to debate, Cameron ulcers are believed to develop due to excessive stomach acid, mechanical trauma, or ischemia, which is a lack of blood supply to the tissue.
The typical symptoms of a hiatal hernia are chest pain, heart burn, nausea, and belching. Patients will sometimes experience difficulty breathing and swallowing. Since these symptoms can mimic those of a heart attack, it’s always important to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Cameron ulcers can exacerbate the traditional hiatal hernia symptoms. If serious, Cameron ulcers may also cause stomach bleeding, leading to iron deficiency anemia due to the chronic blood loss. In extremely rare cases, this bleeding can prove fatal if left untreated.
Endoscopy is the best way to diagnose Cameron ulcers. In an endoscopy, the doctor inserts a thin flexible tube down the patient’s throat. This tube, called an endoscope, is equipped with a fiber-optic light and camera, enabling the doctor to inspect the esophagus and stomach for any ulcers or inflammation. Cameron ulcers are so thin and subtle in appearance, they’re often overlooked unless care is taken.
Since stomach acid can aggravate Cameron ulcers, acid suppressants, like over-the-counter antacids and other prescription drugs, are the first line of defense. Patients will also be given iron supplements to prevent the risk of anemia. Surgery is reserved for only the most extreme cases of stomach bleeding.
The combination of acid suppressants and iron supplements has proven very successful in Cameron ulcer treatment. The vast majority of patients demonstrate healing and a reversal of the condition in as little as six weeks.