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More Than Hunger Pangs

  Tola was an account officer at a busy branch of an upscale bank. He liked his job not just for the fact that it paid the bills, he actually enjoyed what he did for a living. He would get so consumed in his work, to the extent that he would skip lunch on several occasions. The fact that he lived some distance from his office did not help matters, as he had to wake up early and skip breakfast, so he could beat the traffic and be at work early. The meal he never missed was dinner, because he always stopped over at Iya Risi’s on his way home. But for a couple of months, things had changed. It all started when he had to take on the duties of a sick colleague for a couple of weeks. That period really stretched him beyond his limits, he was surprised that he came out unscathed and his superiors were impressed. He was already being touted for a mouth-watering promotion, since he had shown the ability to not crack under pressure. But, all wasn’t the same. He was beginning to put on excess weight and had lost his trim figure, he found himself eating more and more. It was the only cure to the gnawing pain in his tummy, his tummy was like a kid throwing tantrums when he wanted a candy. The pain disappeared on eating, only to reappear 4 or 5 hours later. So, the quick fix was to keep eating, and the frequency of his meals had increased from two or three a day to six or sometimes seven. He had the number of the food delivery dial on speed dial, so life was good. Apart from the weight, everything was fine or so he thought. Was everything really fine? What was really going on in Tola’s tummy.

                Tola had the classic symptoms of Peptic Ulcer Disease or “Ulcer” as it is commonly known. Ulcer, is a very common condition. Some believe that ulcer is caused by not eating regularly, others believe it is caused by the stress of contemporary living. What exactly are peptic ulcers?

                Peptic ulcers are sores in the protective lining of the stomach, the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum) or the lower part of the oesophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). It used to be thought that ulcers were caused by stress, poor lifestyle habits, excessively consuming fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and secretion of excessive stomach acid.  Now, we know better. It has been proved that bacterial infection is the primary cause of peptic ulcers. A bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori (I know it’s a mouthful) was discovered to be the culprit in this case. The kind doctors who made this discovery found out that it was present in more than 90% of duodenal ulcers and 80% of stomach ulcers and they won a Nobel prize for their efforts. Other factors also contribute to the development of ulcers, they include: heavy alcohol use, psychological stress, smoking, excessive use of over-the-counter painkillers (such as Naproxen, Ibuprofen and Aspirin) and prolonged steroid use. Also, these ulcers are more likely to develop in older people with arthritis and manual laborers, since they use painkillers to manage the pains associated with their condition and jobs respectively. Manual laborers are especially known for taking “pill concoctions” aptly known as “body relief” which predispose them to developing this condition.

                It has been discovered that people with blood type O commonly develop duodenal ulcers, while those with blood type A are more likely to develop cancerous stomach ulcers. Peptic ulcer is easily treated with the use of antacids, antibiotics and other drugs that reduce acid production in the stomach, these would be prescribed by the Doctor. Also avoid smoking, consumption of caffeine, fizzy drinks, alcohol, acidic fruits (oranges, grapefruits) and spicy foods. It is also advisable to avoid eating close to bedtime, and to take antacids to relieve symptoms.

                However, peptic ulcer disease becomes an emergency requiring urgent medical attention when the individual starts to experience: a lump in the abdomen, difficulty swallowing, unexplainable weight loss, persistent vomiting, vomiting of blood and passage of black, shining stools. These are alarm symptoms and should not be toyed with, if you experience any of the above symptoms please visit a Doctor urgently. These symptoms could be pointing to the fact that the person has developed serious complications of peptic ulcer disease such as bleeding of the ulcer, perforation of the ulcer, obstruction (causing blockage in the stomach or intestine) or cancer.

                A doctor treating a person for Peptic ulcer disease may decide to carry specific tests such as an Endoscopy (passing a tube with a camera down the throat to better visualise the ulcer and take tiny bits for testing). Also, to detect if a person has been infected by H. pylori, he may decide to do a blood test or a breath test.

                Peptic ulcer disease is a common condition that is easily treatable but could worsen if treated lightly, resulting in life threatening complications. Anyone who develops symptoms similar to the ones Tola had should visit a Doctor as soon as possible. He or She should also take medications prescribed by the Doctor and should continue to take them till the Doctor says it is safe to stop. Also, adherence to advice on foods, drugs and habits to avoid would hasten recovery. You do not have to be a slave to the “fire in your stomach”.