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Alcoholism, Gastritis, and Stomach Ulcers

Posted in Alcoholism

Gastritis and ulcers are two different conditions that can alter normal health and function inside the stomach. Gastritis results from irritation, inflammation, or erosion of the protective lining that coats the stomach’s interior surfaces, while ulcers in the stomach occur when erosion grows severe enough to produce an opening in that lining’s surface. Patterns of regular, heavy drinking – such as those associated with the presence of alcoholism – can easily contribute to the onset of gastritis. These same drinking patterns can also contribute to the formation of stomach ulcers or make existing ulcers more difficult to heal.

Gastritis Basics

Gastritis gets its name from gastric acid, a liquid secreted in the stomach that contains hydrochloric acid, sodium chloride (salt), and potassium chloride. When food enters the stomach, this liquid activates substances called digestive enzymes, which begin the breakdown process that allows the body to absorb dietary proteins. At one time, doctors and scientists believed that an abnormally high gastric acid concentration was the primary cause of gastritis. They now know that, in addition to heavy alcohol consumption, common causes of the condition include unusual activity from a form of stomach bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), various forms of viral and bacterial infection, abnormal reflux (backward flow) of a digestive fluid called bile into the stomach, and the presence of a red blood cell disorder called pernicious anemia.

Symptoms of gastritis are quite variable. They may include indigestion, nausea, vomiting (with or without the presence of blood), abdominal bloating and/or pain, lack of a normal appetite, repeated bouts of stomach upset, a burning sensation in the abdomen that appears when the stomach’s empty, and the production of stool with a black or tar-like appearance. In addition, some people with gastritis-related stomach damage have no obvious outward symptoms. In some cases, the presence of gastritis contributes to the eventual onset of stomach ulcers.

Stomach Ulcer Basics

Stomach ulcers are also known as gastric or peptic ulcers; they differ in location (but not in basic characteristics) from duodenal ulcers, which form in the uppermost section of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. As with gastritis, doctors and scientists once believed that excessive stomach acid was the underlying cause of peptic ulcers. However, they now know that most cases of the condition stem from the adverse effects of H. pylori, or from the repeated use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a group of prescription and nonprescription medications commonly used to manage the presence of heart disease and address various forms of pain and inflammation. The classic symptom of a peptic ulcer is a deep, burning pain that appears in the central portion of the upper abdomen. However, many people afflicted with the condition have no pain or only experience intermittent pain when they eat, or conversely, when they don’t eat.

Alcoholism’s Effects

Alcohol is poisonous to human beings and has a well-deserved reputation for damaging organs throughout the body, especially when consumed in large amounts and/or for extended periods of time. Inside the stomach, heavy, ongoing alcohol consumption can trigger the irritation and inflammation that characterize classic gastritis. In people with existing gastritis caused by H. pylori or some other problem, heavy patterns of alcohol consumption can potentially worsen the effects of the condition.

The evidence for alcoholism’s involvement in the onset of peptic ulcers is less direct. For instance, no one knows for sure how much alcohol intake is required to increase the likelihood of ulcer development. Still, despite this caveat, most researchers consider alcohol consumption a clear risk factor for peptic ulcers, especially in people who regularly use NSAID medications. As with gastritis, people with existing cases of peptic ulcers who drink regularly and/or heavily can worsen the symptoms related to those ulcers. Alcohol consumption can also reduce or delay the effectiveness of various ulcer treatments.

Considerations

Left untreated, peptic ulcers can produce complications that include significant bleeding, the formation of holes that extend partially or all the way through the stomach wall, the formation of holes in the peritoneal lining that surrounds the abdominal organs, and ulcer-related scarring, muscle spasms or inflammation that effectively block the stomach’s connection to the small intestine. Doctors commonly advise patients with peptic or duodenal ulcers to avoid or strictly limit alcohol consumption. Since alcoholics typically have extreme difficulty following this type of advice, they likely have unusually high risks for serious complications related to presence of ulcers in the stomach and/or small intestine.