Stomach Ulcers, also called peptic ulcers, are one of the most common gastrointestinal problems. They can cause many uncomfortable symptoms like abdominal pain, vomiting (including vomiting blood), nausea, bloating, loss of appetite and bad breath. It is estimated that 10% of people will develop a stomach ulcer at some point of their life. Let’s take a look at what causes this uncomfortable problem.
What causes stomach ulcers?
It was long thought that stomach ulcers were caused by genetic factors or environmental factors such as stress or spicy foods. However, in 1982 Australian scientists, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall identified a bacteria called helicobacter pylori as the cause of the vast majority of stomach ulcers. These bacteria are spiral shaped and can survive in the strong acidic environment of the stomach. They also produce enzymes that prevent them being killed by the white blood cells. The colonization of these bacteria of the walls within the gastrointestinal system leads to inflammation and ulcers. Treatment of this type of stomach ulcers consists of a combination of 2 antibiotics.
When the Australian scientists first made this discovery the medical industry was not convinced. So Barry Marshall decided to drink a Petri dish containing the bacteria to prove their hypothesis. It only took 5 days for him to develop symptoms, although they did disappear without treatment. He only took antibiotics because his wife wouldn’t put up with the bad breath caused by the infection! This experiment was published in the 1984 Australian Medical Journal and the rest, as they say, is history. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2005 for their discovery.
In the following video Barry Marshall talks a little bit about his famous discovery:
Stomach ulcers may also be caused by frequent use of some medications that irritate the lining of the gastrointestinal system. These are called Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) which include; aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Another cause of a small number of stomach ulcers is gastrinoma, which is a tumor of the pancreas or duodenum.
Did you know
More than 50% of population have helicobacter pylori in their upper gastrointestinal tract. However, most of these people will never develop stomach ulcers. It is passed onto babies through their mother.