If you have unexplained stomach pain, consider this before reaching for a painkiller: "The worst thing to do if ulcers are suspected is to take aspirin or other NSAID [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug] pain reducers," Gold says.
"They worsen it and don't help."
Instead, if you think you have a peptic ulcer—and 25 million living Americans will get one at some point—consider getting tested for Helicobacter pylori, experts advise. By disrupting a protective layer of mucus, that bacterium causes ulcers, which are sores in the lining of the stomach or first stretch of the small intestine. Other causes include smoking, which can elevate stomach acidity, and excessive NSAID use. Alcohol use may also be a factor, but it's unclear whether that alone can cause ulcers. (The old theory blaming factors like stress isn't totally wrong: Stress can aggravate symptoms of peptic ulcers and delay healing.)
Left untreated, ulcers can cause internal bleeding and may eat a hole in the small intestine or stomach wall, which can lead to serious infection. Ulcer scar tissue can also block the digestive tract. And long-term H. pylori
infection has been linked to an increased risk of gastric cancer.
Ten to 14 days of antibiotic treatment, often combined with acid reduction therapy, can rid someone of H. pylori. Surgery is an option for more severe cases. A 2008 study published in the World Journal of Surgery concluded that laparoscopic repair should be considered for all patients with so-called perforated ulcers.