WHO in a data released in 2014, showed Nigeria as the 11th country with deaths caused by peptic ulcer – with a rate of 15.03%. This may seem like a small percentage, but it is by no means insignificant. When I was a child, I was told that peptic ulcer or as it’s commonly called, stomach ulcer is solely caused by skipping meals. Medical experts however, say it could be caused by stress and also eating certain foods.
Nonetheless, with the discovery of Helicobacter Pylori, this theory has been argued extensively. A study in Digestive and Liver disease suggests that 60 to nearly 100 percent of peptic ulcers are caused by Helicobacter Pylori. The question now is what is Helicobacter Pylori?
Helicobacter Pylori also called H. Pylori is a bacterium that enters into the body and takes residence in the digestive tract. One of the ways that it can be contracted is through the drinking of contaminated water. It can also be contracted through eating of contaminated food. It can possibly be contracted through contact with the stool, vomit or saliva of an infected person.
Ulcers aren’t the only health problems caused by H. Pylori; it has been attributed as the cause for gastritis which is an inflammation of the stomach lining. H. pylori are also linked to stomach cancer. However, the American Cancer Society states that some people with H. pylori in their stomach may never have stomach cancer.
This is how Pylori work: The stomach has a layer of mucus designed to protect the lining of the stomach from stomach acid. H. pylori attack this mucus layer and leave it exposed to the stomach acid. The bacteria and the acid then work together to irritate the stomach and this may lead to peptic ulcer and other illnesses.
It is important to note that many people have H. pylori in their stomachs but do not have any ulcer or other related health issues. According to the centre for Diseases Control and Prevention, two-third of the world’s population is infected with H. pylori. A research conducted by researchers in the Netherlands and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that there might be link between genetic makeup and H. Pylori infection.
Apart from Helicobacter Pylori, peptic ulcer can also be caused by long term use of certain drugs known as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS). These include pain relievers like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen. Recent studies have shown that peptic ulcer is rare in people that do not take these drugs.
While lifestyle habits may not be the cause of peptic ulcers, they do contribute in making the condition worse. The next question is – how do I avoid peptic ulcer?
There is no known way to prevent H. pylori but experts advise that we keep basic hygiene habits.
1. Wash your hands before and after using the toilet.
2. Only eat foods that have been handled and prepared safely.
3. Drink only clean and safe water.
4. Avoid taking NSAIDS and if you have to take them, make sure you do under the doctor’s advice.
You might also want to stick to these lifestyle changes to help you manage peptic ulcer.
1. Do not smoke.
2. Don’t abuse alcohol.
3. Place a limit on caffeine and acidic foods.
4. Cut back on spicy food.
5. Learn to manage stress.
Many developing countries, including Nigeria still have a high rate of people struggling with peptic ulcer. This could be majorly attributed to the fact that most people in these countries do not have access to clean water and properly prepared food. If as a country, we can reduce the rate of H. pylori infection by practicing basic hygiene skills, then we would be able to make headway in reducing the rate of peptic ulcer amongst the populace.