Peptic Ulcer

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There is no proven way to prevent peptic ulcer disease. But several lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of ulcers.

Curb NSAID use: NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) appear to cause ulcers by inhibiting the body's production of prostaglandins, hormones that protect the stomach lining. If possible, avoid these drugsā€”or use the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. Package labeling on most NSAIDs recommends using the drugs for no longer than 10 days in a row. If you feel you need to control pain longer, discuss the treatment with your doctor.

Get tested for H. pylori: If you're over 60 years old, have previously had an ulcer, or have a family history of ulcers, you should ask your doctor about being tested for infection with the bacterium, a major cause of ulcers. It is estimated that half of the United States population older than 60 has been infected. There are several tests for H. pylori, and you and your doctor can decide which is best for you.

Stop smoking: Smokers are about two times as likely to develop ulcers as nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking may increase susceptibility to H. pylori, provide a more favorable milieu for the bacteria to thrive, or diminish gastric mucosal defenses.

Reduce stress: There's conflicting evidence about the role of psychological stress in peptic ulcer disease; it may exacerbate ulcers rather than cause them. Acute stress increases pulse rate, blood pressure, and anxiety, yet only in patients with duodenal ulcers has stress been shown to increase acid secretion. Relaxation exercises, meditation, and other stress-reducing strategies have been shown to reduce blood pressure and slow heart rate. While they may not prevent ulcer formation, they remain sound wellness practices.

Watch alcohol intake: Contrary to popular belief, alcohol, coffee, colas, spicy foods, and caffeine have no proven role in ulcer formation. But alcohol, like smoking, is known to worsen ulcers and aggravate pain.

Last reviewed on 7/28/09

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