What is a peptic ulcer?
peptic ulcer is a sore in the inner lining of the stomach or upper small
intestine (duodenum). Ulcers develop when the intestine or stomach's protective
layer is broken down. When this happens, digestive juices can damage the
intestine or stomach tissue. These strong juices, which contain hydrochloric
acid and an
enzyme called pepsin, also can injure the esophagus.
The esophagus is the tube that leads from your throat to your stomach.
Peptic ulcers are no longer a condition that most people have to live
with their entire lives. Treatment cures most ulcers. And symptoms go away
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.
picture of the
stomach and duodenum .
What causes peptic ulcers?
The two most common
causes of peptic ulcers are:
H. pylori and NSAIDs break down
the stomach or intestine’s protective mucus layer. The mucus layer prevents
digestive juices from damaging the stomach and intestine.
What are the symptoms?
- A burning, aching, 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
- Pain that usually goes away for a while after you take an
antacid or acid reducer.
- Loss of appetite and weight
Bloating or nausea after eating.
- Vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee
- 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.
How are peptic ulcers diagnosed?
Your doctor will
ask you questions about your symptoms and your general health, and he or she
will do a physical exam.
your symptoms are not 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
How are they treated?
To treat peptic ulcers, most
people need to take medicines that reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. If
you have an H. pylori infection, you will also need to
take antibiotics. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics to treat your
infection, take them as directed. Do not stop
taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics. It is much more likely that the
infection will be cured if you take all the antibiotics.