Certain gastrointestinal health conditions can interfere with your ability to live your life free of pain and discomfort, especially if you don’t take steps to treat them properly. These include peptic ulcer disease and acid reflux, both of which affect thousands of people each year.
Luckily, management and treatment options for these conditions are available. Use these methods to reduce irritation and improve your quality of life.
Types of Gastrointestinal Health Conditions
Various gastric conditions involve the inflammation of the stomach lining, which causes tenderness and pain. Two very common types of gastrointestinal health conditions are peptic ulcer disease and acid reflux.
Peptic Ulcer Disease
An ulcer is a type of sore that can develop on both the outside and inside of your body. Peptic ulcers develop in your stomach lining, or more rarely, in your small intestine.
Normally, your stomach lining is protected from stomach acid by a mucus layer. If this mucus layer is corroded over time, typically due to infection by H. pylori bacteria or the overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, stomach acid damages your stomach lining, causing the formation of ulcers.
Other causes of peptic ulcer disease include a family history of ulcer disease; other illnesses like kidney, liver, or lung disease; smoking or excessive alcohol consumption; and taking corticosteroids alongside the use of NSAIDs.
Symptoms of peptic ulcer disease often consist of stomach pain, especially between meals, as well as heartburn, nausea, and bloating. In some cases, peptic ulcers may not cause any noticeable symptoms.
Proper treatment can reduce inflammation and rid your stomach lining of ulcers altogether, but ignoring the problem often means these ulcers will periodically return. Therefore, it’s important to treat the root cause of peptic ulcer disease, not just the uncomfortable symptoms.
Acid reflux is a chronic condition where stomach acid travels up into the esophagus, causing heartburn, nausea, burping, hiccups, bloating, and difficulty swallowing.
Your esophagus and stomach are separated by a muscle ring known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES opens to allow food to pass into the stomach and closes to keep stomach acid out of the esophagus, but if the LES is loose, it may not fully close after a meal.
If you experience acid reflux more than two times a week on a regular basis, you may have a type of chronic reflux disease known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Hiatal hernias are the most common cause of acid reflux because they interfere with the regular functioning of the diaphragm, which also helps keep stomach acid out of your esophagus. Other behaviors can exacerbate the condition, such as laying down after eating, eating a large meal, or consuming certain foods or drinks. In addition, some pain medications and blood pressure medications can have a side effect of acid reflux.
Managing Peptic Ulcer Disease and Acid Reflux
Both peptic ulcer disease and acid reflux can cause discomfort and interfere with your ability to live a pain-free life. Luckily, there are many options for lessening their effects.
Medications, changes in diet, and avoiding risk factors that aggravate these conditions can all help alleviate any pain you may be experiencing.
Discomfort from acid reflux can often be alleviated by taking antacids like Tums, which can also temporarily reduce pain from peptic ulcers.
Other medications commonly used to help manage and treat gastrointestinal conditions include proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers, both of which reduce acid production.
Certain foods and drinks are known to worsen acid reflux symptoms. You’ll want to avoid or cut back on common trigger foods such as onions, citrus, tomatoes, mint, chocolate, and high-fat meals, as well as alcoholic and carbonated drinks.
You may also consider adjusting when you eat. Eating and then lying down can aggravate acid reflux, so avoid having a snack right before bed. Many people find they experience less frequent symptoms if they eat many small meals throughout the day rather than two or three large meals.
Minimize Risk Factors
You can limit the frequency of peptic ulcer and acid reflux symptoms by addressing relevant risk factors. Quit smoking and only drink in moderation. Try to eat smaller meals spaced out evenly throughout the day, and avoid eating right before bed.
Additionally, make sure you’re taking medication responsibly. Don’t overuse NSAIDs or other pain relievers, and always follow the instructions on the bottle.
Gastrointestinal Treatment Options
Treatment for gastric conditions typically focuses on targeting the underhung causes and promoting healing.
Treating Peptic Ulcers
To treat peptic ulcers, you may simply need to cut back on NSAIDs, alcohol, or cigarettes or make other lifestyle changes. If the cause is bacteria, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary, but this is rare, thanks to the efficacy of modern medications.
Treating Acid Reflux
Most treatments for acid reflux involve making lifestyle changes to better manage your condition. More permanent cures typically involve acid-inhibiting medications or, rarely, surgical procedures.
Chronic acid reflux and pain from peptic ulcers do not typically go away on their own. Making changes to your lifestyle and speaking to your doctor can help you discover the right treatment method for you.