The prevention of peptic ulcer disease forms a core area of care for gastroenterologists, specifically by taking into account the habits, lifestyle and medical history of potential patients. While preventative strategies primarily relate to lifestyle changes, some even extend to the prevention of other medical conditions.

Peptic ulcer disease is a condition characterised by the presence of sores or ulcers along the lining of the stomach or the duodenum, which forms a part of the small intestine. This is usually the result when the stomach lining, which functions as a protective layer, is eroded or damaged. 


Painkiller usage


One major risk factor for this condition is the long-term or excessive use of painkillers.

As such, reducing your usage, especially drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen, can help in preventing the onset of symptoms such as heartburn, bloating, nausea or vomiting, and a burning sensation or pain in the middle or upper section of the stomach between meals or during the night.

This type of medication can negatively impact the mucus that protects the stomach from acid and thereby make the formation of peptic ulcers more likely.

Your risks increase if you take these painkillers in addition to being over 65 years, take other painkillers or NSAIDs, have suffered from a peptic ulcer in the past, take any steroid or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors - which are types of antidepressants - or you’re infected with H. pylori bacteria.

If you absolutely need to take painkillers, make sure that you’re taking the lowest dose possible, under the guidance of your GP, have your meals before taking them and refrain from drinking alcohol during this time.


Smoking   

One lifestyle habit that needs to be cut down or eliminated completely for the prevention of peptic ulcer is smoking.

In a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, it was discovered that among 4000 smokers and non-smokers between 18-30 years of age,
smokers were nearly twice as likely to suffer from a range of medical conditions, including ulcers, when they were re-examined between 7-15 years later.

Acid breaks down food when it enters the stomach before it passes further down the digestive system. Any acid that isn’t used or absorbed is neutralised by sodium bicarbonate, which occurs in the duodenum. Frequent tobacco consumption impedes the body’s protective measures against the effects of stomach acid.

Smoking also increases stomach acid over time, which reduces bicarbonate production. This allows the excess stomach acid to remain in the stomach, as a result smokers are particularly vulnerable to ulcers developing in the duodenum and oesophagus.

Beyond this, smoking also reduces the effectiveness of peptic ulcer drugs that aim to decrease the production of stomach acid. Smoking can also exacerbate any causative factor that’s responsible for the formation of the ulcer and slows down the recovery process.

While these damages are reversible to a certain extent, much of the prevention of peptic ulcer disease rests on controlling or refraining from smoking.


​Reducing alcohol consumption


​Cutting down on alcohol is another effective way to prevent the onset of symptoms of this condition.

Alcohol is known for its ill-effects on the digestive system, particularly because it affects the production of stomach acid in a way that hinders the stomach’s ability to destroy the bacteria that enters the stomach.

It also damages the stomach lining, specifically the mucous cells contained within it. This, in turn, makes the stomach lining more vulnerable to the effects of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. In fact, one episode of heavy drinking can damage these cells and cause inflammation and lesions.

Alcohol also damages other parts of the digestive system such as the liver and large intestine.


​Receive medical guidance for the effective prevention of peptic ulcer disease
 

​By following the recommendations set out above, the prevention of peptic ulcer disease can be undertaken effectively. To understand the full extent of your risk and what other steps you can take to prevent the onset of any symptoms, speaking to a gastroenterologist with experience in this area can be enlightening.

For more information on the prevention of peptic ulcer disease, speak to Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah, an interventional gastroenterologist and hepatologist in Sydney.

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