There was a time when if you said you had stomach ulcers people automatically assumed you'd eaten too much spicy food and that all you needed was some antacid and rest, to cure it. Truth be told, stomach ulcers are a tad more serious than that, and spicy food or stress are merely elements that aggravate an ulcer. A stomach ulcer, or as it is referred to medically, a peptic ulcer, is usually either a reaction to certain types of medication or a bacterial infection called H. pylori. In fact, one of the main reasons for finding a cure to this ulcer is the identification of the bacteria. Therefore, in today's time, the treatment for peptic ulcers involves the elimination of the bacteria or removal of the residual medication from the body.
These ulcers are an inflammation in the stomach lining. The typical symptom of a stomach ulcer is abdominal discomfort. This discomfort is experienced at different times. It could be caused a couple of hours after a meal or you may feel pains when the stomach is empty. Sometimes a person feels relief from the pain by eating food or antacids. Other symptoms of a peptic ulcer include poor appetite, weight loss, uncharacteristic bloating and/or belching. In some cases, the patient also feels nausea and may throw up.
The more serious symptom (which requires immediate medical attention) is gastrointestinal bleeding. This is caused by bleeding ulcers and the evidence of this will be visible in the form of blood in vomit, blood in stools, black stool, and vomit with coffee like consistency.
Endoscopy is done using a thin tube with a camera attached on one end. This equipment is called an endoscope. This is an invasive exam, wherein the doctor mildly sedates the patient and then eases the endoscope gently through the mouth into the throat and down to the stomach and duodenum. The attached camera helps the doctor examine the lining of the stomach, duodenum and esophagus. Suring endoscopy, the doctor can take pictures of the stomach, the ulcer (if there is one) and if needed even extract a small scrap of tissue for microscopic examination.
Here too, the doctor conducts an endoscopy. But the upper GI series is an X-ray of the stomach lining and esophagus. Here the doctor gives the patient a liquid called barium to consume. This chalky liquid ensures that the stomach organs and ulcers show up more clearly in the X-ray.
The above two stomach ulcer tests were invasive in nature. H.pylori tests, on the other hand are usually non-invasive in nature. Here the doctor tries to determine if the ulcers were caused by bacterial infection. This can be determined through a blood, breath, stool and/or tissue tests.
Blood tests typically are most common. It is important for a doctor to examine the cause for the ulcer because the treatment for ulcers caused by medication is much different than those caused by the H. pylori bacteria.
Breath tests or Urea breath tests are usually administered post treatment to check if the medication had the desired effect, but in certain cases they are used for diagnosis too. Here, the patient is made to drink a urea solution, which contains special carbon atoms. If the patient has H.pylori bacteria then these will break the urea releasing the carbon into the blood stream. This is then transferred to the lungs and exhaled by the patient. Breath tests are reputed to have an accuracy rate of 95 percent.
Stool tests detect if the bacteria is present in the patient's fecal matter. According to several research studies the stool test, medically referred to as H. pylori stool antigen test (HpSA) is the most accurate tool for detection of H.pylori bacteria in stomach ulcers.