by Zoe Beartoes

In cases of chronic back pain one might think, “Do Ulcers Cause back Pain?” A simple answer to this anxious question is ‘yes’, a peptic ulcer is a probable cause of back pain.

An open sore, lesion or break in the skin or in a mucous membrane is called an ulcer. The thin protective layer that covers / protects the inner surface of body openings like the lining of the stomach and intestines is a mucous membrane. However when people generally use the term ‘ulcers’, they usually mean the peptic ulcer (the one that occurs in the upper digestive system). The digestive system is made up of the esophagus, stomach, duodenum and intestines. Ulcers that occur in the stomach are referred to as gastric ulcers, and likewise there are duodenal ulcers and esophageal ulcers. 80% of peptic ulcers are duodenal ulcers.

They are many signs of ulcers. The most common sign is intermittent and irritating pain in the stomach this pain could also transit to other areas such as the back and shoulder blades, indigestion, heartburn, gas, bloating, appetite loss and nausea. Can back pain be caused by ulcers? Yes, a few more common symptoms of ulcers are headache, itching and a choking sensation.

In the olden days it was generally believed by physicians that too much stress causes ulcers. The classic theory was based on the fact that high amount of stress can increase hydrochloric acid production. This acid is strong enough to hurt protective mucous lining of stomach and as a result causing an ulcer. Though this theory is still accepted by many physicians, but nowadays it has also been well established that bacterial infection is the prime cause of ulcers in more than 70 to 80 % patients.

Gastric ulceration is most commonly caused by bacteria known as ‘Helicobacter Pylori’. It digs into the mucous layer of the stomach causing inflammation. Spicy foods stimulate the stomach to generate excessive amounts of acidic juices which is capable of burning the lining of the digestive tract and hence damaging the digestive system. Excessive amounts of either physical or emotional stress will aggravate an existing ulcer, although it’s not the rood cause of ulcer.

Apart form the infection, use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs can also trigger ulcers. NSAIDs are commonly used by people as pain killers for headaches, sore muscles, menstrual cramps and other similar situations. Belonging to this family of NSAIDs is aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, excessive use of such type of drugs may prove to be detrimental to the stomach lining and cause ulcers. Mucosal protection is further damaged by over consumption of Alcoholic beverages and heavy smoking.

As a first step towards a diagnosis of ulcers, the doctor first inquires as to the symptoms the patient is having. Besides these symptoms, The physician would look over the patient’s medical history for a family history of ulcers or stomach cancers, frequent alcohol consumption, smoking, patients age, weight loss, repeated nausea or vomiting are also taken into consideration. Also incidences of back pain, history of using anti inflammatory drugs or other NSAIDS are looked into. Apart from looking into the symptoms and medical history, endoscopy is the latest method by which a minimal invasive diagnostic medical procedure. It is also accepted as the best diagnostic methods for ulcers. An endoscope is a narrow tube with a light and tiny camera at its end used to study the patient’s digestive system. When it’s inserted down the patient’s throat the doctor can start to examine the stomach lining and duodenum. An endoscope can also carry scissors in to take tissue samples of the mucous membrane for further examination of potential stomach cancer.

Imaging techniques are not as reliable as endoscopy but are also used frequently as patients are becoming more comfortable with this technique. Using the imaging technique, the patient is made to drink a fluid containing barium. Barium is a substance which is opaque and transparent to x-rays. An x-ray image of the patient’s digestive system can show any abnormalities like ulcers that may be present wherein the opaque substance appears as a white patch on the x-ray image. Most of the symptoms of ulcers can be treated with over the counters medications which can relieve the pain, nausea or other general discomfort created by ulcers.

Ulcers and especially Peptic Ulcers do cause severe back pain. Such pain is likely to happen immediately after eating when some one is suffering from ulcers.

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