Bruce Springsteen’s Tour Pause: Doctors Comment on the Severity of a Peptic Ulcer Diagnosis
Bruce Springsteen is the "poster child for peptic ulcer disease," according to one top gastroenterologist. Here are details about the digestive condition that sidelined the Boss’s tour this month.
An icon like Bruce Springsteen is one of those artists fans live to see live. So it’s not a surprise it made headlines this Wednesday when Springsteen announced a time-out from touring to be treated for what his team is calling symptoms of peptic ulcer disease, a gastrointestinal condition. The postponed September shows include stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Albany, and Syracuse in New York, Pittsburgh, and Washington, and some in Connecticut and Ohio.
Springsteen’s team made the announcement on the E Street Band website: “Mr. Springsteen is being treated for symptoms of peptic ulcer disease,” the statement reads, “and the decision of his medical advisors is that he should postpone the remainder of his September shows.” A comment from Springsteen said, “Over here on E Street, we’re heartbroken to have to postpone these shows … we’re looking forward to more great times. We’ll be back soon.”
The announcement has stirred curiosity: Is a peptic ulcer serious enough to put a temporary halt on a high-grossing late summer tour—or could something more serious be going on with the beloved Boss, who turns 74 later this month? Gastroenterology doctors had some answers.
What is peptic ulcer disease?
Affecting millions of people worldwide, peptic ulcers are open sores that form in the stomach or the first part of the small intestine when acid eats away at the lining. There are two main types of peptic ulcers: Duodenal ulcers which are found just below the stomach, and gastric ulcers which occur lower down.
“Bruce is the poster child for peptic ulcer disease,” says Rosario Ligresti, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, NJ, who is not treating Springsteen but notes that peptic ulcers most often tend to occur in older, thin, Caucasian men. “Being on tour is probably stressful and he is likely not getting good sleep, and both stress and sleep loss can worsen peptic ulcers,” Dr. Ligresti says. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and a family history of ulcers can also increase risk for developing peptic ulcer disease.
Peptic ulcer symptoms
Exactly which ulcer symptoms the Boss is being treating for have not been made public. Peptic ulcers don’t always have any symptoms, especially in the beginning stages. Some people may experience stomach pain, usually in the upper abdomen. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, feeling bloated or full, and weight loss, says Craig Gluckman, MD, He is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at UCLA Health in Los Angeles.
Some peptic ulcers cause bleeding, and this can be serious. The first sign of bleeding could be unexplained anemia, which may be marked by fatigue, pale skin, or shortness of breath during physical activity. “As things progress, the pain might worsen and the patient could vomit blood or have black stool,” Dr. Gluckman explains. “If you miss the early signs, the ulcer could perforate the lining of the wall of the stomach or duodenum and cause a perforation or gastrointestinal bleeding, an obstruction and in very rare instances, a cancer.” The key is to catch these ulcers early and treat them to stave off any potentially serious long-term effects, he says.
Causes for peptic ulcer disease
Peptic ulcers have two main causes: Infection with H. Pylori bacteria, or use of NSAIDS such as Advil or Motrin, which can irritate the lining of the stomach. Both NSAIDs and H. pylori infection cause more acid to churn in your stomach.
Diagnosis includes a physical exam, a breath test to check for H. pylori infection, and blood tests. Sometimes, an upper endoscopy exam is needed, says Matthew Hoscheit, MD, a Cleveland Clinic gastroenterologist. This test is “able to not only visualize and diagnose ulcers, but also provide information to help you to develop a treatment plan with your provider.”
Peptic ulcer treatments
Treatment typically involves a seven to 10 day course of antibiotics if H. Pylori is present, often with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 blockers to reduce any acid. If you need to keep taking NSAIDs, your doctor may recommend you also take a PPI to protect your stomach in the future.
Surgery may be needed to treat peptic ulcers that don’t heal, but this is rare and involves sealing the ulcer to prevent or stop bleeding.
The good news? Ulcers are absolutely treatable even in the late stages, Hoscheit says. “A variety of medication, endoscopic and surgical therapies exist for the treatment of complicated ulcers.”
There’s also a role for prevention of peptic ulcers. This includes quitting smoking, changing the type or dose of NSAIDs you currently take, or adding a PPI to lower risk.