Stomach ulcer risk factors vary between individuals. Some get stomach ulcers because of infection, other because of something they consume repeatedly over time.
In either case, stomach ulcers can develop when the natural lining that protects the stomach from acids is eroded. This leaves an exposed spot inside the stomach and over time, stomach acids that wash over the spot leave a raw sore in that location that produces stomach ulcer symptoms.
The location of a stomach ulcer is an important component in determining certain risk factors. Stomach ulcers can be located anywhere in the stomach, the duodenum (just beneath the stomach), and in the pyloric channel, a small passageway between the stomach and the duodenum. Ulcers can also develop in the esophagus, but these are called esophageal ulcers.
In most cases (90%) an H pylori bacterial infection is discovered in the digestive system of people who have stomach ulcers. Stomach ulcer risk factors depend mostly on the presence of this type of bacteria in the body, but there are other risk factors to consider.
Stomach Ulcer Risk Factor #1: H pylori bacteria
The H pylori bacterium is a microscopic germ that lives in the digestive system of nearly a third of the world’s human population. Many people carry colonies of the bacteria for their entire lives and never feel develop stomach ulcers. When they do develop stomach ulcers, they rarely seek treatment.
Medical experts believe that only 40% of the people who get stomach ulcers from H pylori seek out medical attention to assess the risk for a stomach ulcer problem. This is largely true because the symptoms of stomach ulcers are very common to a lot of gastric infirmities.
The symptoms of stomach ulcers include nausea, vomiting, belching, bloating, loss of appetite, and weight loss. These symptoms aren’t always consistent, so they can be mistaken for heartburn and acid reflux or even upset stomach from a big meal.
However, a stomach ulcer risk factor like H pylori also causes significant symptoms over time. Eventually, abdominal pain, gnawing or burning sensations that occur frequently, and gastric pressure can propel a person into seeking medical attention.
An H pylori infection causes gastritis. Gastritis is a term that described a swollen stomach. As the stomach walls swell, pressure increases and so does the level of discomfort.
A colony of H pylori bacteria increases the risk of stomach ulcers because it causes this condition of swelling. Gastritis leads to the over-production of acid which, in turn, puts the esophagus, the duodenum, and the pyloric channel at risk for developing ulcers since they aren’t as protected from acids as the stomach.
Stomach Ulcer Risk Factor #2: NSAID Pain Relievers
NSAIDS, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs work to relieve pain by reducing swelling in the body. NSAIDs are also very caustic to the protective lining in the stomach.
Anti-inflammatory pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen are often taken for muscle pain and headaches. Aspirin can be a part of a life-saving regimen for people who are suffering from heart diseases.
NSAIDs are a risk factor in the development of stomach ulcers because they eat away the lining that protects the soft tissue inside the stomach from the acids produced by the stomach. Once the protective lining is breached, the stomach acids continually wreak havoc on the soft tissues and create a sore spot that we know as a stomach ulcer.
Eliminating NSAIDs may be impossible for some people, especially those with a heart condition. Enteric coated tablets can be gentler on the stomach, but may not be a good alternative when quick absorption is necessary. (Some individuals aren’t able to retain the medication long enough for it to be absorbed, either because of vomiting or quick bowel movements.)
In extreme cases, surgery may be required to repair ulcers and a soothing substance may be prescribed to help deal with the pain. Ultimately, severe stomach ulcers may put a person at risk for toxicity if the ulcer becomes too deep or bleeds. The toxins in the stomach can leech into the bloodstream and cause significant damage to other parts of the body, so preventing the worsening of stomach ulcers is an important part of treatment for many people.
Stomach Ulcer Risk #3: Malignant Tumors
Some types of malignant tumors can increase the risk for stomach ulcers, though the occurrence seems to be rare. Endocrine carcinomas can cause stomach ulcers, especially carcinoma tumors that develop in the pancreas.
These tumors also seem to cause stomach ulcers to be resistant to traditional treatments for stomach ulcers, though medical experts are not clear on the reason for this. They are certain that an increase in the potency of acids occurs in some patients with malignant tumors, which serves as a significant stomach ulcer risk factor in some patients.
Generally, stomach ulcers will subside when the tumors are removed. However, there is one type of tumor that causes stubborn stomach ulcers in a very small number of patients. About 13% of patients with non-beta islet cell tumors develop stomach ulcers that are virtually untreatable, even after the offending tumor is removed.