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Can Anxiety Cause Stomach Ulcers

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What Causes Stomach Ulcers Dont Assume Spicy Foods Are To Blame

Real Question: Does Stress Really Cause Ulcers?

For decades, spicy foods were blamed for painful stomach ulcers. People doubled over in pain were advised to cut back on fiery foods.

In the 1980s, however, that theory was debunked, as was the thought that stress causes ulcers. Matthew Bechtold, MD, a gastroenterologist at MU Health Care, said the primary causes of ulcers are a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs .

H. pylori spreads through contaminated food and water or unsanitary conditions. It can cause ulcers by growing in the lining of the stomach, producing inflammation and causing the stomach and intestinal lining to be more easily damaged by stomach acid.

NSAIDs that can lead to ulcers include popular over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. They can irritate the stomachs lining and may interfere with chemicals that help regulate the protective lining.

Ulcers caused by NSAIDs can be prevented by reducing or eliminating use of the drugs. Your doctor may also prescribe a daily medicine, such as Prilosec, Pepcid or Cytotec.

Even though the beliefs about what caused ulcers were disabused more than 30 years ago, Bechtold said to this day many patients dont know that spicy foods are not harmful.

They tend to blame the spicy foods for their issues, he said.

A study on capsaicin the ingredient responsible for spiciness in peppers showed it might even be good for the stomach.

Can Anxiety Cause Heart Disease

Again, this is a tricky question to answer as there are so many contradictory answers cited in the literature. The answer, it seems, is largely dependent upon how the experts interpret the results of research on this topic. If you look at The National Women’s Health and Information Center website you will see that they list heart disease, high blood pressure, and abnormal heart beats as being linked to long term stress. There is some research which seems to validate this suggested link. One Dutch study reported in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that generalized anxiety disorder was associated with a 74 percent increased risk of cardiovascular events. Specifically they found that anxiety disorders appear to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and death in people who have heart disease.

I know that for me personally, when you read the results of such studies your mind blots out everything else and keys in on the word, “death” as related to anxiety. It can become a case where reading the research about anxiety can actually cause anxiety. This happened to one of our members who wrote in with a question about his concerns over reading such studies associating heart disease and death with anxiety. One of our Anxiety Connection experts, Richard G. Wirtz, Psy.D., wrote a response to this member which is a good reminder to us all when looking at any type of research:

Stomach Pain And Long

Because of the extra acid in your stomach and the changes to the way your body processes nutrients, the stomach pain from anxiety can be a problem if left untreated. Ulcers are just one example. Some people experience heartburn from anxiety, and others eat less often, giving their body fewer nutrients.

The stomach pain from anxiety and stress is rarely dangerous, but it is still important to treat it, because the effects on your long-term health when it is left untreated may be harder to manage.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Stomach Ulcer

  • The most concerning sign is coughing or vomiting blood as it indicates that the erosion of the stomach wall is quite far along.
  • Another sign could include dark stools as a result of blood that has been processed through the digestive tract and is now being excreted in the stool, more formally known as melena.
  • Bloating,
  • Weight loss in extreme cases as the pain affects appetite.

What Causes Stomach Ulcers

Peptic ulcer

Stress and anxiety are widely associated with the development of stomach ulcers, but there are many more causes. In fact, the two leading causes of stomach ulcers are bacteria and medications. The bacteria most associated with the development of stomach ulcers is Helicobacter pylori , and overuse of ibuprofen is also linked to the occurrence of ulcers. In addition to ibuprofen, other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also contribute to peptic ulcers. The most common types of NSAIDs are aspirin and ibuprofen. Prescription NSAIDs, which are typically prescribed at a much higher dosage, are more likely to contribute to ulcers than the over-the-counter types, but overuse of OTC medications can contribute as well.

Excess stomach acid, or hyperacidity, can contribute to the development of peptic ulcers but is not often a primary cause. Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is a rare condition that also causes excess stomach acid to be produced.

Certain risk factors that contribute to ulcer development as well, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Steroid use
  • Genetics

While ulcers typically affect adults and older people, they are possible in children. The risk is much higher for children to develop a peptic ulcer if their parents are smokers.

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As You Wake And Feel The Sun Shining Into Your Room Your Brain Decides That This Is The Perfect Moment To Start Reminding You Of The 3000 Tasks You Have To Complete Today

You can feel your breathing and heart rate increase, your stomach start churning, all while a light sweat breaks out on your face lending a sheen to your complexion that reflects the morning light. This is not how you planned to start your morning. What if there were worse conditions and symptoms lurking at bay, also related to stress? Let’s find out.

Owen Wiseman

How Are Ulcers Diagnosed

Blood tests and even breath tests for H. pylori infections can give your doctor a clue as to what is going on inside you, but to be sure nothing is missed in a diagnosis, a visual inspection is essential. Getting a look inside is typically done during an endoscopy, a procedure where a long, thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end is inserted through your mouth and down your esophagus. This camera allows your doctor to inspect the lining of your stomach and the upper portion of your small intestine. In some cases, the endoscope can be fitted with tools to retrieve tissue samples to check for stomach cancer.

Anytime you experience prolonged gastrointestinal bleeding, you should seek medical attention immediately. Many other gastrointestinal conditions, including stomach and colon cancer, can cause blood to appear in your stool or in vomit. Other serious conditions such as Crohns disease can mimic many of the symptoms of ulcers, which makes getting a firm diagnosis from a gastroenterologist crucial to ensuring you are treating the underlying condition and not merely managing symptoms.

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What Are Peptic Ulcers

There is no clear evidence to suggest that the stress of modern life or a steady diet of fast food causes ulcers in the stomach and small intestine, but they are nonetheless common in our society: About one out of every 10 Americans will suffer from the burning, gnawing abdominal pain of a peptic ulcer at some point in life.

Peptic ulcers are holes or breaks in the protective lining of the duodenum or the stomach — areas that come into contact with stomach acids and enzymes. Duodenal ulcers are more common than stomach ulcers. Comparatively rare are esophageal ulcers, which form in the esophagus — or swallowing tube — and are often a result of exposure to medications, like certain antibiotics or anti-inflammatories, or alcohol abuse.

Until the mid-1980s, the conventional wisdom was that ulcers form as a result of stress, a genetic predisposition to excessive stomach acid secretion, and poor lifestyle habits . It was believed that such influences contribute to a buildup of stomach acids that erode the protective lining of the stomach, duodenum, or esophagus.

Other factors also seem to contribute to ulcer formation, especially in someone with H. pylori:

  • Overuse of over-the-counter painkillers
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Psychological stress
  • Smoking

Other studies show that stomach ulcers are more likely to develop in older people. This may be because:

Also, for no known reason, people with type A blood are more likely to develop cancerous stomach ulcers.

Symptoms And Treatment Of Stomach Ulcers In Children

Do stress and spicy foods cause peptic ulcers?

Peptic ulcers, also known as stomach ulcers, are less common in children than adults but occur more frequently than one might imagine. According to 2011 research published in the medical journal Ulcers, as many as 8.1% of children in Europe and 17.4%in the United States will experience a peptic ulcer before the age of 18.

While peptic ulcers are closely related to a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori , they are sometimes secondary to more a serious disease, such as cancer.

Diagnosis in children differs slightly from adults as some tests are less able to deliver reliable results. Uncomplicated cases are usually easily treated with antibiotics and other oral medications.

Unless there is a serious underlying cause, the risk of complications from a peptic ulcer is low and the risk of death even lower .

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What Is An Ulcer

Many people talk about ulcers as if they were experts, but very few seem to understand what an ulcer actually is.

Youve had countless ulcers throughout your life, but most develop externally. If you graze yourself, for example, you may lose layers of skin, your dermis and even the subcutaneous fat beneath this. The body reacts to this breach by creating an ulcer, or open sore. Eventually as long as the sore is not too big and does not get infected the sore or ulcer will heal itself.

Stomach ulcers are simply internal sores upon the lining of your stomach. This begs the question as you cannot scrape your stomach lining, how do stomach ulcers occur?

When & Why Do These Anxious Feelings Occur

Then you eat something. Perhaps a bowl of salad followed by a spicy corn tortilla. Soon, your meal passes over this open wound. The roughage in the salad and corn scrapes the mucus clean off the ulcer as it passess through your GI tract. Then, the spices irritate the wound. Can you imagine rubbing cayenne pepper into a cut on your arm? Or rubbing some tortilla chips over a scraped knee?

Your body is not accustomed to wounds deep in your gut, and struggles to interpret this painful irritation. The vagus nerve, also known as the “wandering nerve,” is the nerve responsible for correctly transmitting the pain signals from your gut to your brain. But your brain can’t make sense of it. “Is it hunger? Am I in distress? What is wrong!?” So your nervous system goes haywire, and lashes out at any possible cause.

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Can Gastric Disorders Contribute To Anxiety And Depression

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It turns out that stomach problems can cause a lot more than just physical discomfort. Research has suggested that gastrointestinal troubles may be linked with anxiety and depression as well.

It is probably no surprise that stomach issues can cause stress, but they can also lead to significant mental health problems. The stomach complaints most strongly associated with anxiety and depression appear to be conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome . However, a 2011 Stanford University study discovered that even short-term digestive problems can lead to mental health issues later.

Of course, not all stomach irritation is related with lifelong psychological problems. The Stanford study noted that the exact impact most likely depends on when gastrointestinal trouble occurs during someones development. It is also likely influenced by genetics and other environmental factors.

Research has found that around 20 percent of Americans suffer from persistent or recurring pain in the upper stomach region, related to conditions such as IBS. A number of studies have shown that these individuals are significantly more likely to experience anxiety or depression.


How Stomach Ulcers Are Thought To Develop

Can stress alone cause stomach ulcers?

A stomach ulcer is correctly known as a peptic ulcer. The majority of stomach ulcers are caused by unfriendly bacteria within the stomach that penetrate the stomach lining and cause a sore to develop. Often such infections are tiny, and you may not even notice you have one. Larger infections can cause a burning sensation and abdominal pain, especially at night. Some drugs may also help cause stomach ulcers.

Most peptic ulcers will go away on their own as the body has systems designed to fight the infection, however, large and persistent ulcers may need additional treatment.

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Can Chronic Pancreatitis Cause Stomach Ulcers

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How Do I Know If Its Anxiety And Not An Ulcer

Its not uncommon to find yourself concerned that your struggle with stomach pain is not from anxiety or stress at all. For example, you may find yourself concerned that instead of anxiety, what you are really struggling with is an ulcer.

Only a doctor can diagnose whether or not your pain is from an ulcer, but there are some clues. The clearest signal is if you have any blood in your stool or acid burps . Thats often a clear sign of an ulcer. Also, if the pain or discomfort tends to occur after eating and isnt related to a similar condition, GERD , its possible you may have an ulcer.

However, this is complicated by the fact that ulcers can be caused by long-term stress and anxiety, as they stimulate the production of extra stomach acid. This excess acid in the stomach breaks down the gastric or intestinal lining and cause open wounds that may harm your health.

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Does Emotional Stress Cause Ulcer Signs And Symptoms

Can stress cause ulcers? Get the answer from Essentias Vicki Andvik, PA-C in the gastroenterology department.

Video taken from the channel: Essentia Health

In this video the surgeons explore the relationship between stress, anxiety and depression and musculoskeletal pain. Although there is a very complex relationship between mental health and body pain, the surgeons try to simplify the issues based on the experience they have treating orthopedic conditions in the presence of stress, anxiety and depression.

Video taken from the channel: Talking With Docs

Video taken from the channel: DoctorsOrdersTV

Video taken from the channel: Howcast

Dr. Susan Levenstein discusses her manuscript Psychological Stress Increases Risk for Peptic Ulcer, Regardless of Helicobacter pylori Infection or Use of Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs. To view abstract

Video taken from the channel: AmerGastroAssn

Though emotional stress cant cause an ulcer, if you have a peptic ulcer, it can make your symptoms seem worse, it adds. Thats because stress can lower your threshold for any type of pain. Finally, as the Canadian Society points out, you could trigger or ramp up your ulcer pain if you give in to stress by smoking or drinking alcohol.Another relationship between stress and ulcers involves the stress caused by the ulcer itself.

In other words, the link between stress and its role to cause ulcers is not fully understood yet.

List of related literature:

How To Relieve Stomach Pain Symptoms

What Causes Stomach Ulcers + Is Stress Ever To Blame? A Doctor Answers

There isnt necessarily a cure for the stomach pain symptoms themselves. When your body is under stress, your stomach tends to hurt based on the acids in your stomach and the foods youve already eaten. If you have stomach pain as a result of an anxiety attack, you may need to wait it out.

Water can help a little, however. So consider sipping cool water. Antacids may also be beneficial in some cases, but if you have stomach pain often, you may not want to depend on antacid treatments.


Stomach pain from anxiety can be caused by several stress-related issues, including abdominal tension, digestion issues, and irritable bowel. Although the stomach pain may be caused by anxiety, the acids in the stomach are still very real. There are ways to treat both your stomach discomfort and anxiety.

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Can Stress And Anxiety Cause Stomach Ulcers

There is still some debate over this in the medical community, but there is evidence to suggest chronic stress and anxiety can result in imbalances in hormone levels that can increase the acidity of your stomach. This increase in stomach acid can eventually lead to ulcerations in the lining of your stomach and duodenum.

Stress and anxiety have also been linked to sleep disorders, which can further wear your body down and make it harder for tissues to repair themselves, further wearing away at your stomach lining.

How Are Ulcers Treated

Treatment for stress ulcers is similar to that for other stomach and duodenal ulcers. Similar to the use of over-the-counter antacids to help treat occasional heartburn, the first goal of treatment is to lower the acidity of your stomach to allow inflamed tissues to begin healing.

One of the first lines of treatment for stress ulcers are drugs such as proton pump inhibitors or histamine blockers designed to reduce the secretion of stomach acid. These drugs work on different chemical pathways, but both can help reduce the elevated amount of acid in your digestive tract that contributes to the development of ulcers.

Though allowing your body to begin healing itself is part of the course of treatment, it is not the entire picture. Since stress ulcers are typically present in patients who are suffering from other serious illnesses, treating the underlying condition that caused your stress ulcers to appear will be necessary for your body to fully heal.

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