Ulcer is fast becoming a common medical condition in Africa today and it accounts for most outpatient consultations in hospitals. Also, cases of complicated ulcers have been noted and this can be life-threatening.
Ulcer is defined as the erosion of the mucosa (top layer) lining the stomach and the duodenum (first part of the small intestine and it is caused by an imbalance in the acid level in the stomach, the protective mechanism and the presence of Helicobacter pylori (a microorganism implicated as a major risk factor of developing ulcers).
The main symptom associated with ulcer is burning chest pain worsened by hunger, eating spicy foods or drinking carbonated drinks. However, the pain is relieved by meals, milk or antacids.
Complications of ulcer include severe bleeding, intractable pain and perforation. Therefore, it is important that we know the best ways of preventing ulcers. Here are 5 effective ways of preventing ulcers.
1. Avoid certain drugs e.g. NSAIDs
Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) e.g. diclofenac, ibuprofen, aspirin and indomethacin are used as painkillers for different types or medical conditions. However, these drugs are frequently abused as there can be obtained over the counter without a doctor’s prescription. This drugs, when taken for a prolonged period alters the protective barrier lining the stomach. It is important that you adhere to your doctor’s prescription, take the drugs with food and avoid over the counter drugs.
2. Stop cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol intake
Cigarette smoking has also been implicated as a major risk factor in ulcer diseases. The certain mechanism is not fully clear but it has been noted that people who smoke cigarette excessively have a greater chance of developing ulcer disease than people who do not smoke. Avoiding cigarettes greatly reduces the incidence of stomach ulcers. Excessive alcohol consumption also increases your risk of developing ulcers. If you must drink alcohol, it is advisable to be moderate.
3. Wash your hands and maintain good personal hygiene
This is a fact not known by many but it is a good measure of preventing ulcers. Helicobacter pylorus is a bacterium that is known to be a risk factor of ulcer disease. It is contacted by fecal contamination of food, water or from hand to hand transmission. Hygienic practices like washing your fruits and vegetables properly before consumption, drinking potable water, and washing your hands thoroughly after contact reduces the risk of Helicobacter pylori transmission which in turn reduces the incidence of ulcers.
4. Eat your meals on time and avoid staying hungry
From studies and experience, avoiding meals and poor eating habits have shown to contribute greatly to the formation of ulcers. This may not be a direct cause, but it contributes to the number of ulcer cases seen in clinics today. The acidity of the secretions produced by the stomach has a pH of 2, that is enough to cause severe damage to the stomach. However, the stomach has its own protective mechanism. When this protective mechanism fails then ulcer is bound to occur. Starvation keeps the stomach empty hence allowing more time for the acid to destroy the lining of the stomach
5. Manage your stress level
Stress is another important risk factor for ulcers hence reducing your stress level helps in guarding against ulcers. Also, because of the importance of stress, a subtype of ulcer is referred to as ‘stress induced ulcer’ which is the erosion of the mucosa of the stomach and intestines from stress. This stress can be as a result of peer pressure, stress associated with work or school, severe burns and accidents. Stress reduces blood to the stomach and intestine leading to a reduction in the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the mucosa of the stomach. Subsequently destruction of this protective lining occurs. Managing your stress levels is another great way of preventing ulcers.