The stomach and the duodenum (the first part of the intestine) are exposed to many potentially damaging substances, including acid produced by the stomach to aid food digestion, alcohol, and irritant foods such as spices. The stomach and duodenum have a natural defence mechanism that protects against damage, but sometimes this mechanism fails, leading to disease.
The first article in this section covers infection with the Helicobacter pylori bacterium, which was discovered in the early 1980s. It is now estimated that about half the world’s population is infected with H. pylori. In most cases, there are no symptoms. However, H. pylori is known to be associated with the disorders of the stomach and duodenum discussed in this section: gastritis, which is inflammation of the lining of the stomach; peptic ulcer, which is an area of the stomach lining or the duodenum that has been eroded by acidic digestive juices; and stomach cancer. Both gastritis and peptic ulcer are common disorders of the digestive system that affect thousands of people in the UK every year. However, if either of these disorders occurs with H. pylori infection, it can usually be treated with drugs. The final article covers stomach cancer, which is now rare in many developed countries. General problems that may involve the stomach or another part of the upper digestive tract are covered elsewhere (see Indigestion; Nonulcer dyspepsia; and Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease).
For further information about the structure and function of the stomach and duodenum, see Digestive System.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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