Heartburn and ulcers are two conditions that typically present with similar symptoms in nearby regions, so it’s not uncommon for patients to mistakenly believe that they are dealing with one condition when they are actually bothered by the other. We’ve talked about each of these conditions in depth on their own blog posts, but we wanted to use this blog to compare and differentiate between each issue. Below, we take a closer look at some of the similarities and differences between heartburn and stomach ulcers.
Stomach Ulcer Or Heartburn?
As we noted above, both heartburn and stomach ulcers can present with similar symptoms. Many people who develop a stomach ulcer or experience heartburn will deal with symptoms like abdominal pain and discomfort, nausea, indigestion and symptoms that worsen during or shortly after eating or drinking. Despite these similarities, they are two entirely different conditions, and that becomes apparent when we take a closer look at each:
- Heartburn – Heartburn is caused when stomach acid makes its way back up into your esophagus and damages the sensitive tissue in the area. Symptoms are typically felt in your throat and upper chest region.
- Stomach Ulcer – Stomach ulcers occur when the protective barrier inside the stomach erodes, causing stomach acid to damage part of the pouch. An ulcer is a wound or sore that develops inside the stomach, and the presence of a specific type of bacteria or regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can break down the stomach’s defenses against acid. Symptoms are typically felt a little bit lower, in your stomach or just below your breastbone.
Any person can develop either of these conditions, but there are certain risk factors that may make an individual more prone to developing an ulcer or experiencing heartburn. Risk factors for ulcer development include old age, smoking, frequent NSAID use, a family history of ulcers, and being exposed to the H. pylori bacteria. Smoking is also a risk factor in heartburn, as is being overweight or pregnant.
How Are Heartburn And Ulcers Treated?
Similar to their symptoms, some treatment techniques may overlap, but treatment will differ a bit because they are two separate conditions. Let’s first explore the common treatment options for ulcers.
When it comes to ulcer treatment, your gastrointestinal specialist will typically focus on one of two treatment paths. Either they will try to heal the ulcer itself, or they will focus on the underlying cause, which should allow the ulcer to heal. If the focus is to heal the ulcer itself, the most common treatment is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). A PPI works by lowering the amount of acid that your stomach produces. This reduced amount of stomach acid helps to provide an ideal environment for ulcer healing to take place. H2 receptors are another type of treatment that limits stomach acid production and allows for ulcer healing.
If your stomach ulcer is caused by the presence of the H. pylori bacteria, antibiotics, medications or a PPI may be recommended to clear up the bacteria and allow healing to run its course. If your doctor believes that your ulcer was driven by excessive NSAID use, curtailing your medication use may allow the stomach lining to heal, or this treatment may be paired with a PPI of H2 receptor for best results.
Treatment for heartburn may also involve medications, but medications to reduce stomach acid strength will not correct the underlying cause of heartburn, so more active treatments and lifestyle changes may be needed. Aside from surgery to correct an issue with your esophageal sphincter, some less-invasive treatments that can prove effective at reducing or eliminating heartburn include weight loss, eating smaller meals, avoiding certain foods, limiting alcohol or caffeine intake, giving up smoking and staying upright after meals so that gravity can keep stomach acid away from the esophagus.
Of course, Dr. Bhatti and his team can also provide some professional oversight if you are dealing with either of these conditions. For more information about heartburn, stomach ulcers or any other digestive issue, reach out to Bhatti GI Consultants today at (952) 368-3800.