Stress or something else?

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I had a question about stress and ulcers come my way.  I wanted to answer it here in the hopes that it would be helpful.

What is an ulcer?

An ulcer is a tear or “hole” in tissue.  When we speak about ulcers though, we most commonly think of the tears in the stomach, duodenum, or, more rarely, esophagus.

What causes an ulcer?

For a long time, we blamed stress for ulcers.  It was thought that stress made more stomach acid which would then burn a hole into the stomach.  Although there might be a slight correlation between ulcers and stress, there is actually another reason for ulcers.  They are most commonly (an overwhelming 80-90% of the time) caused by a bacterial infection.  The bacteria is called Heliobacter pylori or H. pylori as it’s known by it’s homies.

What is up with stress, then?

Stress does a lot of things to the ol’ body.  One of the first things that happens when we are under chronic stress (and stress is any stimulus that requires a bodily response), is that our digestion shuts down.  You’ve heard of the fight, flight or freeze response, I’m sure.  To fight, flee or freeze, digestion is the least of our worries, so the body stops that.  The next thing that happens when we are under chronic stress is that our immune system is compromised.  It just isn’t at its best.  So, the body is primed to get sick.  Of course, a stomach ache, no matter how acute does not mean an ulcer, but if it is chronic and painful, a visit to the doctor is not a bad idea.  If your doctor does discover an ulcer and H. pylori infection, discuss treatment options.  If not:

What are some good ways to manage chronic stomach aches?

If you are dealing with “just” stomach aches and there isn’t anything that the doctor found, it’s time to reassess some lifestyle issues.  You may by under an unmanageable amount of stress.  Although there are wonderful ways to manage stress, including exercise, meditation, play, time with supportive people, I find that eliminating as much of the stressors that you can to be even more effective.  Also, you may be suffering from food allergies or food intolerances.  An elimination diet of the most common causes of food allergies could be very helpful.  Another way to manage stomach aches is to be sure to get enough sleep.  (Hmmm…that’s interesting.  All the ways to prevent and manage stomach aches sound surprisingly like my seven health basics.)

Stomach aches are horrible and can be really disabling.  They certainly can ruin a perfectly fine day.  But, they also show up as a message.  They are one of your body’s many ways to let you know that something is happening that is making it unhappy. I mean, we didn’t come up with the expression, “I feel it in my gut.” by accident, you know.  As always, grant your body the authority that it deserves.  It is never wrong.

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