What Is Peptic Ulcer Disease?

Peptic ulcer disease forms painful sores or ulcers in the lining of your stomach or first part of your small intestine, which your doctor may call the duodenum.


We don't know if there's a single cause for ulcers. We do know they come from an imbalance between digestive fluids in the stomach and duodenum. Most happen because of an infection in the lining of the small intestine with a type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).

Things that can increase your odds of an ulcer include:


You may not have any. If you do, they may include:

In severe cases, symptoms can include:

  • Dark or black stool
  • Vomiting blood or material that can look like coffee grounds
  • Weight loss
  • Severe pain in your belly

How Serious Are They?

Though ulcers often heal on their own, you shouldn't ignore their warning signs. If not treated, ulcers can lead to serious health problems, including:

  • Bleeding
  • A hole through the wall of your stomach called a perforation
  • Swelling or scarring that blocks the passageway from your stomach to your small intestine

Taking NSAIDs can lead to an ulcer without warning. The risk is especially concerning for the elderly and those with a history of peptic ulcer disease.


Your doctor may suspect you have an ulcer just by your symptoms. But to make sure, he'll need to order tests of your blood, breath, and stool. First, he may ask you to take an acid-blocking medication, like those used to treat heartburn, to see if symptoms get better.

He may recommend a procedure called an upper endoscopy. A small, lighted tube (called an endoscope) is put in down your esophagus and into your stomach to look around. You'll usually get this if your symptoms are severe or they keep coming back.



There are several ways to treat ulcers, including:

Lifestyle changes: If you smoke or drink alcohol, stop. If you take NSAIDs, talk to your doctor about something else you can take.

Medications: These can include:

Bismuth, an ingredient in many medicines and cosmetics, is also part of some treatment regimens.

An upper endoscopy can treat a bleeding ulcer.

You'll need an operation if your ulcer created a hole in the wall of your stomach, or if there's serious bleeding that can't be controlled with an endoscopy.

If you have symptoms of an ulcer, call your doctor right away.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on June 14, 2017



National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

Johns Hopkins Medicine web site: "Stomach and Duodenal Ulcers (Peptic Ulcers)."

New World Encyclopedia: "Bismuth."

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