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Could A Hidden Ulcer Be The Source Of Your Anxiety?

Written by John Immel, Asheville, NC
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Do you sometimes feel like your nerves are completely on edge? Are there times when you react out of proportion to your circumstances? If your anxiety seems mysterious to you, or coincides with eating a meal, there may be a hidden cause lurking in your digestive tract.

An ulcer is an open wound or sore on the lining of the GI tract. For some, an ulcer may feel like a gnawing or scraping sensation in the upper abdomen, usually in the top center or slightly to the left.

But unfortunately for many, ulcers prevail without any symptoms at all, at least not physical ones. The nervous system isn't accustomed to gut injury - ulcers were historically rare, although they are very common today. An irritated gut sends messages of distress to the brain, but your brain may not know how to interpret this signal. So you may feel emotionally reactive, sensitive, irritated, and anxious but feel mystified as to why you are feeling this way as there is no clear pain sensation.

You might blame your boyfriend or girlfriend, your spouse, a child, parent, or lunch date, but the hypersensitivity actually has an internal source: hidden pain in the GI tract that you aren't even aware is there.

This condition, known as Clamoring Stomach, causes symptoms similar to hypoglycemia. You may have shakiness, feel faint, or lightheaded, or even break out into a sweat. You may feel nauseous. Your stomach may feel tense, like there is a knot just below your rib cage. You may simply be irritable and anxious, or just plain scattered.

Most people reach for comfort food when this happens, or anything to calm down their frayed nerves. Clients with a clamoring stomach frequently have strong hunger-like sensations, a sort of empty feeling in the stomach, which they interpret as their body asking for more food. But this sensation is not true hunger. Eating only makes the ulcer worse. If the feeling is causing emotional symptoms like anxiety or irritation, they may withdraw from friends and conversation until the feeling passes to avoid lashing out. Fortunately, Ayurveda provides some more reliable tools to help deal with this situation at the root.

When & Why Do These Anxious Feelings Occur?

There are several reasons why you don't notice an ulcer. The first reason is that between meals, your body coats the ulcer with a nice layer of mucus to soothe it. A soothed ulcer is a quiet ulcer.

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.

Checking Your Gut For A Hidden Ulcer

Sometimes when I talk to clients and suspect an ulcer, they say, "But I don't feel any pain in my gut." Once I ask them to palpate their upper GI, they may feel some generalized tenderness if ulcers are present. They are often surprised by the pain and sensitivity they feel there, and may even say "ouch!" upon pressing into their stomach region. So, one of the best ways to find a "hidden" ulcer is to palpate your gut, especially your upper GI.

The most common location of an ulcer is in your duodenum. The duodenum is generally located along the midline of your abdomen, just below your rib cage, in the solar plexus area. This area is a hotspot of the digestive tract, containing a cocktail of caustic juices that can erode the lining of your gut. Press your hands gently around this area, enough to feel your organs but not so hard that you are pressing against your spine.

The second most likely location of an ulcer is in your stomach. The stomach is located a bit higher and to the left of your duodenum, just behind the rib cage. To reach your stomach, press behind and just below your left rib cage, close to the midline. Do you feel any tenderness, pain or soreness in this region? Finally, wounds can be anywhere in your gut tract, caused by anything from yeast infection to diverticulosis. So, palpate the rest of your gut starting from the belly button, moving to the lower right, and continuing in a clockwise fashion around your abdomen until you make a complete circle.

If you notice any pain or tenderness, write down the location. If you or someone you know is struggling with mysterious anxiety or reactiveness, that seems to come out of the blue, ask them to palpate their gut, too. Note: Not all anxiety and irritability is caused by an ulcer, so it is important to check with a licensed therapist.

Did You Find Hidden Pain in Your GI?

If you do find a pattern of pain or irritation in this region, there are several things you can do to start the healing process. Discovering pain, soreness and tenderness in your GI can be a real game changer when it comes to healing your body and mind. It is important to see a medical doctor and get a medical diagnosis to rule out serious conditions if you are struggling with pain in your gut. If your pain is in the upper GI at or around the level or your rib cage, consider getting checked out for an ulcer or gallbladder disease. Pain in other regions can indicate anything from IBS, to gas pains, to more serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel disorders.

Consider a consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner that specializes in digestion to help you develop a plan. Ayurveda offers excellent tools in the area of digestive disorders. A practitioner can help you come up with a plan tailored to your unique constitution and body. It may be the missing link in your healing journey!

Monitor the location of your pain twice daily, when you wake up, and when you go to bed. Anytime pain gets worse, journal what you've eaten over the last 24 hours.

Check this area anytime you are angry or tense, to see if the cause is physical, instead of emotional. Soon, you will be able to teach your body how to differentiate between GI pain and true anxiety. This will help you prevent emotional reactions to digestive distress, improving your emotional stability and relationships.

Purchase this audio presentation, "Protecting Your Digestion from Stress and Anxiety", to learn more about resolving emotional problems that have their origin in the gut, as well as digestive problems that are exacerbated by stress.

Know Your Body: Ayurvedic Body Scanning
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About John Joseph Immel

About the Author

John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.

John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.

John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 7 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.

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