Living With Peptic Ulcer Disease

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If you have been diagnosed with a peptic ulcer or peptic ulcer disease, your doctor will provide medications to reduce stomach acid. Lifestyle is also an important part of your treatment plan. Learning to reduce stress levels, eating healthy, and avoiding alcohol and certain medications, for example, can help to relieve symptoms and help ulcers to heal.

Emotional

While peptic ulcers are caused by the H. pylori bacterium, stress may also play a role. A 2016 study of 17,525 residents of a community in Denmark found that people with the highest level of perceived everyday life stress were at greater risk for peptic ulcers.

This may be because people who are under stress may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or eating an unhealthy diet, all of which also increase the risk of peptic ulcers. These behaviors can also worsen symptoms in those who already have this diagnosis.

Learning to manage stress in healthier ways can help to keep uncomfortable peptic ulcer symptoms at bay. Mind-body exercises, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and massage are tools that can help to reduce your stress. Some people also find that working one-on-one with a therapist can help them learn better coping mechanisms to alleviate anxiety, worry, and negative thinking.

The following tools can help you to reduce stress:

  • Meditation: Headspace.com offers free guided meditations to help calm the mind and body. In addition to the website, there is a free app and a paid version with more advanced options.
  • Breathing: The website Calm.com offers a guided breathing exercise featuring an expanding circle. As it expands, inhale, and as it contracts, exhale. There are also several free apps that can help you practice taking calming breaths. Search the app store to find the one that suits you best.
  • Therapy: If carving out time for an in-person therapy appointment isn't possible, online therapy can help. Reputable companies providing this service include such as Talkspace.com and Betterhelp.com.
  • Exercise: Many people find taking a weekly yoga or tai chi class can be helpful for stress reduction. In fact, research shows any type of exercise can combat stress by boosting endorphins, neurochemicals that serve as the body's natural antidote to stress.
  • Relax: If your go-to stress relievers trend toward unhealthy, find alternative ways to unwind after a hard day. Take a long bath or shower, go for a walk around the block, listen to music, engage in hobbies, or read a book.
  • Connect: Spending quality time with people who we enjoy can ease our daily burdens. Research shows sharing experiences with a best friend can measurably decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol. One particular study found the presence of a loved one can reduce situational stress through emotional load sharing—an effect investigators found is even stronger when people hold hands.

Physical

In addition to reducing stress, doctors say making other lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms of peptic ulcer disease. Many people with ulcers feel better when they avoid spicy, fatty, and acidic foods. In fact, prior to the introduction of medications that treat ulcers, a bland diet was the recommended course of treatment.

Some people with peptic ulcers find common triggers foods can cause stomach irritation, excessive acid production, and heartburn. Others may not experience symptoms related to specific foods but may react after eating at certain times of the day or eating too much in one sitting.

Lifestyle choices can also irritate and ulcer and lead to uncomfortable symptoms. The following tips and resources can help:

  • Eat six small meals instead of three big ones: This keeps your stomach from getting too full and reduces gastric pressure. Be sure to eat slowly as well.
  • Don't eat or drink anything for at least two hours before going to bed: If you take naps, try sleeping in a chair. Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the chances of refluxed food. Gravity will help keep food and stomach acid in the stomach where it belongs.
  • Steer clear of foods that trigger excessive acid production or heartburn: There are several foods and beverages that may cause symptoms. Get to know the foods most likely to cause problems for those with ulcers. If you aren't sure what foods trigger your symptoms, try keeping a food diary for a week.
  • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid, which will irritate an ulcer and worsen symptoms. Alcohol also relaxes the LES, allowing stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus.
  • Don't smoke: Smoking stimulates the production of stomach acid. It can also delay the healing of an ulcer and has been linked to a recurrence of ulcers.
  • Be careful with over-the-counter pain relievers: Certain medications that irritate the stomach lining, including aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) other than Tylenol (acetaminophen), can contribute to the development of ulcers in people with H. pylori. In addition, taking NSAIDs in combination with corticosteroids, anticoagulants, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may compound the problem. If you need to take these medicines, your doctor may prescribe another medicine to protect your stomach.

Practical

Living life and socializing with an ulcer may be tricky, but it doesn't have to be a problem. While sticking to your healthy eating plan by avoiding fatty and spicy foods and abstaining from alcohol is ideal for helping an ulcer heal, it can be difficult when socializing. These tips can help:

  • Try to not overdo it: The more you stray from your healthy eating plan, the more you are likely to experience heartburn, indigestion, bloating, and pain.
  • Take your medicine: If you suffer from heartburn or acid reflux, take your antacid medicine before you go out to try to head off symptoms. Also, carry extra antacids, such as Rolaids or Tums, in your purse or pocket in case symptoms arise while you are out.
  • Avoid tight clothing: If bloating is a common symptom for you, choose forgiving fabrics, elastic waistbands, or loose-fitting pants to help you stay comfortable after your meal.
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Article Sources

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