By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. and Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac, Ph.D.
Burning sensation in your stomach? Persistent abdominal pain? Frequent heartburn and indigestion? These could be stomach ulcer symptoms. Acupuncture and TCM can help alleviate ulcer symptoms and reduce inflammation.
Stomach ulcers, also known as peptic ulcers, are painful sores that develop in the lining of the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine. Acid that is naturally present in the digestive tract begins to eat away at the lining of the stomach or intestinal walls. This can cause discomfort, burning pain, and other symptoms that significantly impact a person’s quality of life.
Peptic ulcers may lead to complications if left untreated. In these cases, we may refer to the condition as peptic ulcer disease (PUD).
If the ulcer is near a blood vessel, it can cause internal bleeding. In severe cases, an ulcer can burn through the wall of the stomach, which leads to undigested food and digestive juice leaking out into the abdominal cavity. This is known as a “perforated ulcer” and often requires immediate surgery.
A peptic ulcer can also be so inflamed that it blocks food from moving through the digestive tract, which can cause you to feel full quickly, regurgitate food, and lose weight unintentionally. This is known as “obstruction.”
Ulcers are typically treated with medications and, in more severe cases, surgery. Acupuncture treatment can be used as an alternative or adjunct treatment to help heal ulcers, with or without surgery.
What Causes Stomach Ulcers?
Stomach ulcers are often caused by an imbalance between the digestive fluids and the protective mechanisms of the stomach lining. There is usually a lining of mucus that helps protect the stomach from digestive fluids, but sometimes there is too little mucus and too much acid.
A bacterial infection with the Helicobacter pylori bacteria is often involved in the formation of an ulcer. This bacteria can cause inflammation that affects the stomach lining. Left untreated, an H. pylori infection in the digestive tract can increase your risk for certain types of gastric cancers.
Canker sores, also known as mouth ulcers or aphthous ulcers, can also be caused by the H. pylori bacterial infection. Canker sores can also be related to other gastrointestinal disorders, like Crohn’s disease, or inflammatory bowel disease (colitis).
A rare condition called Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome (ZES), in which a tumor called a gastrinoma develops in the pancreas or top part of the small intestine, can cause excessive amounts of stomach acids to be produced, which can lead to the formation of ulcers.
Long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or pain medication (NSAIDs), like Ibuprofen can also cause inflammation in the stomach.
Lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or eating a lot of spicy foods irritate the stomach lining and contribute to the development of ulcers.
Emotional and/or physiological stress can throw off the body’s pH balance, which can also cause excessive stomach acids to be produced.
Top 5 Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers
While it is possible to have an ulcer and not be aware of it because you don’t have any symptoms, most people with ulcers will experience some pain in their stomach.
- Abdominal pain: A burning or gnawing pain in the abdomen, typically between the breastbone and the navel. The pain may be worse when the stomach is empty, such as between meals, and at night.
- Indigestion: Discomfort or bloating after eating, belching, and heartburn (acid reflux).
- Nausea and vomiting: Feeling nauseous and experiencing vomiting, especially after meals. Some people may even vomit blood.
- Loss of appetite: A decreased desire to eat due to feelings of fullness or discomfort.
- Blood in the stool: In severe cases, ulcers can lead to bleeding, resulting in blood in the stool or black, tarry stools.
Other ulcer symptoms can include: changes in appetite, intolerance to certain foods, especially fatty foods, feeling faint, having trouble breathing, and weight loss.
People may feel that the stomach pain is alleviated by eating certain foods that create a buffer against the stomach acid.
While medications and lifestyle changes are commonly used to treat peptic ulcer symptoms, acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offer a holistic approach to address the root causes and alleviate symptoms of stomach ulcers.
Medical Treatment for Peptic Ulcers
When you seek conventional treatment for stomach ulcers, an endoscopy may be performed so that your doctor can see the ulcer(s) and possibly stop bleeding or remove abnormal tissue. Medications may be offered, and in some cases, surgery may be indicated.
Medications for stomach ulcer treatment include:
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): These drugs reduce stomach acid production, allowing the ulcer to heal. PPIs include omeprazole, lansoprazole, and esomeprazole.
- Histamine receptor blockers (H2 blockers): These medications reduce acid production, providing relief and promoting ulcer healing. Famotidine and ranitidine are common H2 blockers.
- Antibiotics: If an H. pylori infection is present, a combination of antibiotics, such as amoxicillin and clarithromycin, will be prescribed to get rid of the bacteria.
Stomach ulcer surgery may be necessary if complications like perforation or obstruction occur.
Repairs to a stomach ulcer can be performed during an endoscopic procedure, where a camera and tools are introduced through the throat.
Minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery can be done through a small incision in the abdomen. Holes in the stomach may be patched with something called a Graham Patch.
If the hole is too large to be patched, then a small part of the stomach may be cut away, and the whole stomach will be closed, and, if necessary, reconnected to the top of the small intestine. This procedure is called a partial gastrectomy.
While conventional medical intervention for stomach ulcers can help bring relief, they do not necessarily prevent the recurrence of ulcers. Medications and surgery do not address the chronic stress that may have contributed to the formation of the ulcers in the first place.
Acupuncture treatment can help restore balance of the emotions as well as gastric fluids. It can also promote healing after ulcer surgery and prevent further occurrence of ulcers. If an ulcer is not yet so severe that surgery is needed, acupuncture treatment may be able to help heal the ulcer before it becomes worse.
Can Acupuncture Help Stomach Ulcers?
Acupuncture treatment for stomach ulcers, gastric pain, and also canker sores (mouth ulcers), is usually focused on harmonizing the Qi (life force energy) of the stomach and the spleen. Heat and dampness are pathogenic forces that can cause imbalance in the stomach and spleen, while heat and wind in the lungs can also be a factor, from the TCM theory perspective.
Therefore, acupuncture points will be chosen to help strengthen and regulate the stomach and spleen. Acupuncture has been shown to have an effect on the vagus nerve and help reduce overactive acid production in the stomach. Acupuncture also affects the central nervous system, with the effect of reducing pain sensations.
One study compared patients who received acupuncture treatment for peptic ulcers in addition to medication (bismuth subnitrate and amoxicillin) versus patients who received only medications. The patient who also had acupuncture had a higher recovery rate, clearing the H. pylori bacterial infections, and also had a dramatically reduced recurrence rate in the following year after treatment ended.
A laboratory study showed that acupuncture helped to repair ulcerated tissues, reduce the secretion of gastric acids, and improve the condition of gastric mucosa, or stomach lining.
Another study showed that acupuncture treatment for chronic gastritis—inflammation of the stomach lining—was more effective than a drug protocol consisting of proton pump inhibitors, NSAIDs, and antibiotics.
Acupuncture Near Me for Stomach Ulcer – Los Angeles Area
At Art of Wellness Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine in West L.A., we have over 35 years of experience helping people with gastrointestinal disorders of all kinds. Problems such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, diverticulitis, colitis (IBD), IBS, and Crohn’s disease can all be relieved by using TCM as an alternative or complementary medicine treatment.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.