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Peptic Ulcer Disease - Topic Overview


A peptic ulcer is a sore in the inner lining of the stomach or upper small intestine camera.gif.

Ulcers form when the intestine or stomach's protective layer is broken down. When this happens, digestive juices-which contain hydrochloric acid and an enzyme called pepsin-can damage the intestine or stomach tissue.

Treatment cures most ulcers. And symptoms usually go away quickly.

Peptic ulcers that form in the stomach are called gastric ulcers. Those that form in the upper small intestine are called duodenal (say "doo-uh-DEE-nul" or "doo-AW-duh-nul") ulcers.

The two most common causes of peptic ulcers are:

H. pylori and NSAIDs break down the stomach or intestine's protective mucus layer.

Symptoms include:

  • A burning, aching, or gnawing pain between the belly button (navel) and the breastbone. Some people also have back pain. The pain can last from a few minutes to a few hours and may come and go for weeks.
  • Pain that usually goes away for a while after you take an antacid or acid reducer.
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss.
  • Bloating or nausea after eating.
  • Vomiting.
  • Vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.
  • Passing black stools that look like tar, or stools that contain dark red blood.

Different people have different symptoms, and some people have no symptoms at all.

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and your general health, and he or she will do a physical exam.

If your symptoms aren't severe and you are younger than 55, your doctor may do some simple tests (using your blood, breath, or stool) to look for signs of H. pylori infection.

The only way for you and your doctor to know for sure if you have an ulcer is to do a more complicated test, called an endoscopy, to look for an ulcer and to test for H. pylori infection. An endoscopy allows the doctor to look inside your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. An endoscopy is usually done by a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in digestive diseases.

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