Stress and Your Digestion:a Closer Look at Peptic Ulcers

From work challenges to a stuck relationship, when stress and anxiety hit an all-time high and are not addressed in time the right way, it can trickle down into our digestive system, resulting in an ulcer. The good news is that it can be easily treated with medication and lifestyle modification. As HEALTH investigates.

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What it is

According to Dr. Thomas James, Gastroenterologist, a peptic ulcer is erosion in the mucosa lining due to an increase in stomach acid. Basically, the lining of your stomach and first part of your small intestine, known as duodenum, have a layer of mucus that protects them from the acid which is produced by your stomach to help you digest food.

Different types

There are two different categories of peptic ulcers, he explains, one is duodenal and the other is gastric classified according to its location in the body. “The duodenal ulcer is found in the first part of the small intestine of the stomach and a gastric ulcer is located in the mucous membrane of the stomach.” While duodenal ulcer is more common, both are triggered by food, stress, and lifestyle.


The most common symptom, says Dr. James, is an aching of pain in the upper abdomen, a feeling of indigestion, hunger like pain, and vomiting. While the symptoms are the same for both types of ulcers, a key difference is the burning pain accompanying a duodenal ulcer which is caused by an empty stomach while gastric ulcer patients instead exhibit pain after eating.


An ulcer, he elaborates, is essentially caused by an increase in acid production which may be exacerbated by several factors. He adds, “One is Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) infection which is responsible for 60 percent of gastric ulcers and 90 percent of duodenal ulcers.” While H pylori is a bacterium that is commonly found in the stomach, the vast majority of people infected have no symptoms and will never develop problems. However, H pylori is capable of causing a number of digestive problems, including ulcers. Usually an ulcer will take a few months to heal, but may recur from habits, says Dr. James. “Overall lifestyle modification is the most important form of prevention and treatment also.”

Specific treatment

Acid secretion can be helped by diet modification, consuming meals on time, smoking cessation, and especially stress modification. With regards to medication, he explains that powerful proton pump inhibitors known as PPI are now being used effectively to provide short-term (two to eight weeks) treatment for ulcers in the stomach and in the upper small intestine, which can block more than 90 percent of stomach acid production. Also, treatment of H Pylori infection usually leads to clearing of infection, relief of symptoms, and eventual healing of ulcers. “Recurrence of infection can occur and retreatment may be required, if necessary with other antibiotics,” he says, but the treatment is targeted at eradicating the bacterial infection; the ulcer then heals and relapses are prevented.

Work on stress

Get a good amount of sleep: A proper amount of sleep helps relax and recuperate the mind and body, with the rest helping to reduce some of the ill-effects of stress.


Exercising helps keep the body fit and helps release endorphins that could potentially help mitigate some of the more physical and even mental effects of stress.

Maintain a strong social network

Having a strong network of support and care can also help when feeling stressed.

Cultivate a positive mindset

Having a positive mind-set makes tackling stress easier than doing so with a pessimistic attitude.

Write a fun list

Take time out to write down a list of things that you love doing. Then when you are feeling down, you can consult your list and depending on how much time you can manage, put something that you love doing into the day. H


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