A stomach ulcer, or gastric ulcer, is a hole or sore in the lining of the stomach that causes pain. Ulcers develop when stomach acids erode the stomach lining. They are most commonly caused by an infection by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria. Until relatively recently, however, doctors thought lifestyle factors such as stress caused the condition. In addition to abdominal pain, other symptoms include nausea and vomiting, vomiting blood, appetite changes and unexplained weight loss.
Because stomach ulcers are most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics are the most common treatment. Often, multiple antibiotics will be prescribed because one is not always strong enough to kill the bacteria. Commonly prescribed antibiotics include amoxicillin, metronidazole and clarithromycin. A typical course of antibiotics will last at least two weeks, and it's important to take all the prescribed medication even if your symptoms have subsided.
The second type of medications work to either reduce the amount of acid in the digestive tract --called acid blockers -- or stop the pumps that make the acid -- called proton-pump inhibitors. Both are available over the counter and by prescription. A third type of medication that helps treat the symptoms is a cytoprotective agent and works by protecting the stomach lining. It is also available over the counter and by prescription. Additionally, two drugs, Prevpac and Helidac, were designed specifically to treat ulcers and combine two antibiotics with a cytoprotective agent or other acid suppressor.
In addition to drug treatment, take steps at home to provide some relief. First, avoid foods and drinks that can irritate the lining of the stomach, including spicy and acidic foods and alcoholic beverages. Also, smoking can interfere with the function of the stomach lining and should be avoided by people with ulcers. People with ulcers should also never take pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These drugs, including Advil and Aleve, can cause ulcers or stomach irritation. If you have an ulcer, use acetaminophen instead.
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