An ulcer is a lesion in the mucus lining of the stomach. The mucus protects the underlying cells in the wall of the stomach from the toxic juices in the stomach. These juices contain a high concentration of HCl, which is toxic to the cells due to its highly acidic nature. An ulcer can become serious if not treated because prolonged exposure to HCl will eventually cause bleeding at the exposed portion of the stomach wall.
The leading cause of ulcers is a recently discovered bacterium. This bacterium, Helicobacter pylori (photo on left), was discovered in the early 1990's by a veterinarian who was studying ulcers in pigs. This bacterium resides in about 30% of the population; these individuals have a much greater risk of developing ulcers.
The chances of any person getting an ulcer are increased if they are exposed to certain chemicals or emotions. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or stronger medications used in the treatment of arthritis or chronic inflammatory disease and ethyl alcohol (alcohol in alcoholic beverages) can weaken or break the mucus barrier that normally protects stomach cells from the acid. An ulcer can also be caused by stress and anxiety because these emotions cause an increase in the amount of HCl secreted by the cells of the stomach. Patients that suffer from severe infections or injuries are at a much greater risk of developing ulcers due to a breakdown in the mucus lining of the stomach.