A peptic ulcer is a small sore that develops in your stomach or duodenum. In some cases, a peptic ulcer may develop in the esophagus, or “food pipe” that connects your throat to your stomach.
The two most common types of peptic ulcers are stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers. As their name suggests, stomach ulcers develop in the lining of the stomach. Duodenal ulcers develop in the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine.
Burning Pain is the most common symptom of peptic ulcers. The pain may:
In severe cases of peptic ulcers, symptoms can include:
Peptic ulcers happen when the acids that help you digest food damage the walls of the stomach or duodenum. The most common cause is infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. Another common cause is the long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. It's a myth that spicy foods or stress cause peptic ulcers. While these factors may aggravate ulcers, most are caused by infections, certain medications or other digestive conditions.
To see if you have an H. pylori infection, your doctor may test your blood, breath or stool. Your provider also may recommend endoscopy to view inside your stomach/GI tract. In an endoscopy, your doctor passes a small, lighted tube down your throat and into your stomach. This tube, known as an endoscope, includes a tiny camera that allows your gastroenterologist to look at your throat, stomach and duodenum for signs of peptic ulcers.
Certain factors can increase your risk for peptic ulcers. These risk factors include:
Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop on the inner lining of the stomach, upper small intestine, or esophagus. They can be caused by the erosion of the protective lining due to factors such as infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria, prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), excessive stomach acid production, and other factors. Complications of peptic ulcers can be serious and may include:
It's essential to seek medical attention if you suspect you have a peptic ulcer or are experiencing symptoms such as persistent abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or changes in stool color. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications and promote healing. Treatment typically involves medications to reduce stomach acid, antibiotics to treat H. pylori infection (if present), and lifestyle modifications.
Peptic ulcers will get worse if not treated. Treatment may include medicines to reduce stomach acids or antibiotics to kill H. pylori. Antacids and milk can't heal peptic ulcers. Avoiding alcohol and not smoking can help. You may need surgery if your ulcers don't heal.
Peptic ulcers are common. About 4 million people in the United States have an active peptic ulcer at any given time. Doctors diagnose about 350,000 new cases of peptic ulcers every year.
Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, for an extended time can lead to peptic ulcer disease. These drugs can irritate the lining of the stomach, prevent the mucosa from producing protective mucus, reduce blood flow to the stomach’s mucosa, and interfere with the healing of a superficial injury to the stomach lining.
NSAIDs reduce pain by blocking enzymes, known as prostaglandins, which trigger fever, inflammation, and pain in response to an injury or illness. While prostaglandins cause pain, they trigger the healing process too. Furthermore, prostaglandins inhibit the secretion of acid, stimulate the secretion of mucus, and contribute to the protection the mucosa provides. In other words, when you take NSAIDs to reduce pain, you may be increasing your risk for peptic ulcers.
Many people believe that coffee and spicy food can cause peptic ulcers – you may be glad to know that that is not true! It is also untrue that people with ulcers have to eat a bland diet: you can continue enjoying your favorite foods as long as they do not worsen your symptoms.
If you have symptoms of a peptic ulcer or at high risk for developing this digestive condition, contact your doctor or gastroenterologist. Your digestion doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis and help you develop a personalized treatment plan that promotes healing.