Stomach ulcers, also known as peptic ulcers, are open sores that are found in the gastrointestinal tract, especially in the stomach or primary portion of the intestines, although they are occasionally also seen in the lower esophagus.
Stomach ulcers are known as gastric ulcers, while small intestinal ulcers occurring in the duodenum are known as duodenal ulcers.
Peptic ulcers are thought to be quite common, with some studies showing that around 10 per cent of people will develop them at some point in their lives.
The most common symptom associated with peptic ulcers is abdominal pain. However, no symptoms of stomach ulcers will present themselves initially, because a stomach ulcer itself does not cause pain.
Symptoms will arise due to complications caused by stomach ulcers, such as stomach ulcer bleeding, ulcers blocking the movement of food (gastric obstruction), and the stomach splitting open at the ulcer (perforation).
Usually triggered by eating, stomach pain has been known to travel up to the neck or down to the belly button and through the back, and can persist for anywhere from moments to hours.
Other symptoms of peptic ulcers include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Peptic ulcers can be the result of various different factors, but are usually caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria (H. pylori) or by non-steroidal ant-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
It is estimated that 60 per cent of peptic ulcers are caused by H. pylori, spiral-shaped bacteria in the digestive tract. This bacterium causes inflammation and leads to gastritis.
NSAIDs are regularly used to treat pain and inflammation, and are another common cause of peptic ulcers. When used for extended periods of time, the lining of the stomach can become damaged, causing sores and ulcers.  If you currently have or recently had a peptic ulcer, you will be advised to avoid taking NSAIDs. Paracetamol can be used as a pain reliever instead.
Other lifestyle factors that may cause peptic ulcers include stress,  diet and smoking.
Diet for peptic ulcers
Many people find solace from drinking milk, because it coats the lining of the stomach and can alleviate the short-term pain. However, despite being a fairly common practice, this is not advised. Milk increases acid content in the stomach, which irritates ulcers, and can slow the healing process.
Alcohol and smoking have also been shown to irritate the lining of the stomach, not only increasing healing time, but also the risk of developing more ulcers, as well as other health issues.  Spicy and high-fat foods, citrus fruits and drinks, chocolate and coffee may also aggravate symptoms, and should be avoided.
Flavonoids, a type of phytonutrient present in nearly all fruits and vegetables, are powerful antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory effects. Recent studies have shown that flavonoids not only have the capability to heal peptic ulcers, but to also prevent their return.  Foods high in flavonoids include:
- Dark “raw” chocolate
- Green tea
- Kale and other leafy green vegetables
- Nuts and beans
Flavonoids are also present at high concentrations in citrus fruits, but these are likely to irritate the lining of the stomach.
Honey has been shown to work as a powerful antibacterial, and has an inhibiting effect on H. pylori. It will also help to soothe your ulcers, although too much may elevate your blood sugar levels, which can be detrimental to health.
Eating a healthy diet consisting of vegetables in abundance, pasta, rice, lean meats, fish, non-citrus fruits and a small amount of low-fat dairy should help your ulcers to heal and prevent their return.