’Stress’ is a hugely common word used to describe the feelings or symptoms we get when we feel over worked and under pressure. Because stress increases adrenaline in the blood stream, it can be very useful in situations where we need to make quick or important decisions, or we need to perform at our best. However, if we experience stress on an ongoing basis, it can lead to unwanted symptoms.
So what is an ulcer?
Ulcers are open sores that develop on the lining of the stomach. They are quite common - apparently 1 in 10 people in England are likely to get stomach ulcers in their life. There are a few different types of stomach ulcers, but the diagnosed type is dependent on the root cause of the ulcers.
What causes stress related ulcers?
Believe it or not, doctors don’t believe that stress necessarily causes stress related ulcers (although it is believed to make them worse). What is known is medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin, and production of excess stomach acid, are common causes of ulcers.
Often when we get stressed, we end up with other bodily ailments such as headaches, muscles aches and fatigue. When this happens many of us reach for the medicine cabinet, or drink excess caffeine and energy drinks to fight the fatigue. This may seem like a great quick fix, but the result can be a buildup of excess acid, and over time this could contribute to your likelihood of getting a stress related ulcer.
Doctors also believe that ulcers can be caused by bacteria in the stomach. Yes, we have bacteria in the stomach anyway, but the type that is thought to cause ulcers is called hyper bacteria pylori, and is not generally present in the stomach unless there is a problem.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
Stress related ulcers can have the following symptoms (symptom source), with the most common being a burning or gnawing pain in the abdomen. This pain may also be felt in your neck, stomach and back. You might also find you have increased indigestion and heartburn (although these can also be symptoms of acid reflux or GERD), and you may vomit. Of course, these symptoms can be experienced for many different illnesses, so don’t worry that you have a stomach ulcer until you have your symptoms confirmed by your doctor.
Sometimes stomach ulcers cause no pain or symptoms, which means it’s possible to get a complication such as bleeding. If you begin to vomit blood, have black stools or have sharp pains in your stomach that don’t let up, be sure to seek urgent medical attention.
Stress related ulcers generally are very treatable, but left untreated they can be very serious. If you live a generally healthy lifestyle you are unlikely to experience stress related ulcers, but if you have any of the above symptoms be sure to see your doctor as soon as possible.