In the fast-paced world we live in, stress has become an inevitable part of our daily lives. However, stress not only affects our mental well-being but can also manifest physically, leading to conditions like stress ulcers.
According to a study published by researchers from Northwell Health SIUH, stress ulcers are a serious condition that can afford you a trip to the intensive care unit (ICU) and may even require surgery.
What are Stress Ulcers?
Stress ulcers, also known as stress-related mucosal disease (SRMD), are erosions or open sores that develop in the lining of the stomach or upper part of the small intestine, according to a review in Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology. Here are its symptoms:
- Burning Pain: Individuals with stress ulcers often experience a burning sensation in the upper abdominal region.
- Nausea and Vomiting: Persistent nausea and vomiting may occur, contributing to dehydration and further complications.
- Dark Stools or Vomit: Blood in stools or vomit, appearing dark and tarry, can indicate bleeding from stress ulcers.
- Feeling Full Quickly: A sensation of fullness or bloating after consuming small amounts of food can be a symptom.
- Weight Loss: Unintended weight loss may occur due to difficulty in eating caused by the ulcers.
Causes of Stress Ulcers
Contrary to popular belief, stress ulcers are not solely caused by psychological stress; they are often a result of physiological stress, such as critical illness, trauma, or major surgery. Here are some conditions that may result in the development of stress ulcers:
- Severe Illness or Injury: Conditions such as major surgery, traumatic injury, or critical illness can trigger stress ulcers.
- ICU Stay: Patients in the ICU, especially those requiring mechanical ventilation, are at an increased risk.
- Burns: Severe burns can lead to stress ulcers due to the systemic stress response.
- Head Injury: Traumatic brain injuries can contribute to the development of stress ulcers.
- Sepsis: Infections leading to sepsis can result in stress ulcer formation.
Stress Ulcer Treatment
When treating stress ulcers, the first step is to find the root cause. Treating the root cause, such as managing critical illness or reducing physiological stress, is crucial for effective healing. After this first step, the following steps can help treat stress ulcers:
- Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): Medications like omeprazole and pantoprazole reduce stomach acid production, promoting ulcer healing.
- H2 Blockers: Ranitidine and famotidine are H2 blockers that also decrease stomach acid production.
- Antacids: These provide quick relief by neutralizing stomach acid.
- Nutritional Support: In severe cases, where eating is challenging, intravenous nutrition may be necessary.
Stress ulcers serve as a reminder of the intricate connection between our mental and physical well-being. Recognising the symptoms, understanding the causes, and seeking timely treatment are pivotal in managing stress ulcers. While medical intervention is crucial, adopting stress management techniques and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can contribute significantly to preventing these ulcers from developing in the first place. If you suspect you may have stress ulcers, consulting with a healthcare professional is paramount for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.