Based on the phrase "You're giving me an ulcer," we can all gather it is not something great. My mind instantly goes to the image of someone clutching their stomach, but what is an ulcer exactly?
An ulcer occurs when tissue in an area of the digestive system becomes damaged — the mouth, stomach, esophagus, or small intestine — and where the ulcer occurs determines the type it is classified as (stress, peptic, or mouth). The area gets irritated and inflamed and creates a small tear or sore. These tears are caused by a bacteria called H. pylori and long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDs. The latter includes medications like aspirin and ibuprofen, which is why you hear the caution, "Do not take these pills on an empty stomach."
It is not your great love of the spiciest curry or your out-of-control, high-stress life that will give you an ulcer, but those things are not going to be your friends. The link between stress and ulcers has a varied and complex connection.
Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, told POPSUGAR, "Up until recently, scientists were under the impression that peptic ulcers were primarily caused by stress. Even more confusing is how much stress actually plays a part in stress ulcers." Still, he confirms that the high consumption of OTC painkillers, alcohol, and tobacco products have a significant effect.
Dr. Mashfika N. Alam, a family physician, adds that there is definitely a positive relationship between ulcers and excessive mental and physical stress. In a medical sense, "People who stress too much have an increased gastric acid secretion that can irritate the gastric and duodenal mucosa leading to gastritis." This chronic gastritis can lead straight to the development of peptic ulcer. Plus, mouth ulcers are often found in people who are chronically stressed — "people who stress often are also seen self biting and jaw clenching," she says.
Now that you've been inundated with the science behind ulcers, it can seem like an uphill battle. Still, there are great ways to deal with the pain that actually make for great wellness advice, too. If you've developed a stomach ulcer from NSAIDs, go to a doctor. They will provide you with the proper treatments to heal. With a mouth ulcer, there is an opportunity to make lifestyle changes. Dr. Alam recommends using a mouthguard while sleeping to help with those chronic stressors. "Also, practicing self-relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation can really help frequent mouth and stomach ulcer flare up," she says. Avoiding foods that are salty, spicy, acidic, or alcoholic is a good place to start.
Start small, seek help, and know that there can be relief from the pain.