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Death by stress


By Jiang Wanjuan (Global Times)

These days, we have so many meetings, unfinished tasks and deadlines that we often don't give top priority to our own well-being. It's always something that can wait another day. Health is usually ignored until misfortune strikes, as it did 23-year-old Fang Yan, whose recent and sudden death reminds many to listen to their bodies more.

Fang died only a few days after being diagnosed with a stomach ulcer, a common problem that is not considered fatal, according to Dr Liu Yong with the Digestive Department of Beijing Xuanwu TCM Hospital, although sometimes serious complications can occur.

On December 16 Fang was found dead in her apartment by her boyfriend who'd come to visit. According to her Weibo account, which she updated regularly until December 15, she had been working overtime and eating at odd hours.

Beijing-based Datang Mobile, Fang's employer, confirmed her death but did not elaborate on the cause and refused to associate her passing with being stressed or overworked.

In one update on Weibo, Fang described her physical symptoms and recent diagnosis. The post "Washing my hair before going to bed gave me a migraine and eating after 9pm gave me gastric bleeding" was forwarded over ten thousand times. The day before she died, she wrote, "I now feel miserable because I am sick and wasn't allowed sick leave."

"Many factors could cause a stomach ulcer to appear or recur, such as irregular eating habits, stress and excessive drinking," said Liu. "People tend to produce more gastric acid when nervous and stressed, making the condition worse."

However, with today's medicine, Liu says it is very rare for someone to die from a stomach ulcer.

"But if the ulcer is on an artery and it breaks, it could cause massive bleeding, killing in seconds," he said. "An ulcer can be treated very easily after symptoms begin, but given that many young people think they are strong enough to ignore minor problems, they often work through the pain."

Aside from bleeding, which Liu believes killed Fang, complications caused by stomach ulcers such as gastric perforation and gastric outlet obstruction can also cause death.

"I was shocked by what happened to Fang Yan," said 24-year-old auditor Liu Shuyan. "I have stomach problems too, but I never take it seriously. When it hurts, I just take a pill or eat some soda crackers. I think I will be more careful from now on."

According to Liu, around 10 percent of emergency patients sent to his hospital suffer from gastric bleeding. If these symptoms are not treated properly, death can occur.

Liu also said there are certain signs people should be aware of that may indicate a stomach ulcer. These include periodic pain in the upper abdomen which worsens after eating, sharp stomach pains, and very dark or even black stool, a sign of internal bleeding.

"When someone has very dark stool, the condition is already very serious and the patient should be sent to the hospital immediately," he added.

There are also some benign causes of black stool, for example, eating a lot of iron-rich foods such as animal blood and liver, but people with this symptom should exercise caution.

Stomach ulcers are a common problem that can heal, but they can also resurface easily if one isn't taking care of oneself.

"Unhealthy habits could destroy the gastric mucosa, a defense system for the stomach, increasing the likelihood of recurring ulcers," Liu said. "If one does not take certain measures to improve lifestyle, this can develop into a serious problem."

He suggests that those who already have stomach ulcers should quit smoking and eat food that is easier to digest.

"Meat is better stewed or steamed. Fried foods as well as spicy or acidic foods should be avoided."

It is also a good idea to have regular gastroscopic examinations, even if you're very healthy, and especially if you work in a high-stress environment.

"Young people are the backbone of society. It is important for them to form good habits and make their lives balanced," he said.

9 tips for a happy, healthy stomach

Eat at regular intervals

Never skip breakfast or lunch. An empty stomach can produce too much gastric acid, harming the mucosa that protects the stomach.

Avoid overeating

Don't eat too much, or too late at night, so that your stomach can rest when the body is sleeping. Don't eat between meals so the stomach gets a break.

Eat slowly

Don't rush when you eat, and be sure to chew your food thoroughly so that the stomach doesn't have to work harder during digestion.

Eat clean food

Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that is the main cause of stomach ulcers, breeds much faster in stomachs that have been exposed to unclean food.

Bundle up in the cold

Remember that health is more important than showing off your body during winter. Wear a good coat, hat and gloves. Too much exposure to the cold can lead to stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.

Don't exhaust yourself

Take frequent rests from work, both physically and mentally. This allows the stomach a reprieve from stress, which negatively affects its immunity.

Take it easy on the booze

Too much alcohol can destroy the stomach mucosa, aggravate any previous stomach damage, and even lead to internal bleeding.

Eat milder foods

Avoid foods that are high in acidity and hot spices. Stick with simple foods that are easier to digest.

Don't just take a pill

Many over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, contain chemicals that harm the stomach. If you're having frequent stomach pains, don't self-medicate. It can make it worse. Go see a professional who can give you something that will really treat your illness.

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