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Understanding Ulcer Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have an Ulcer?

Describing your symptoms may lead your doctor to suspect that you have a peptic ulcer, but it will not likely help determine the type, because the symptoms of stomach and duodenal ulcers are so similar. To make a specific diagnosis, your doctor may administer several tests.

One such test is a barium swallow or upper GI series of X-rays that allow your doctor to identify and locate the ulcer and determine its type and severity. The test requires you to drink a "barium milkshake," which has a liquid that will show up on an X-ray. You may be asked to eat only bland, easily digestible foods for two or three days before the test. After drinking the chalky liquid, you lie down on a tilting examining table, which evenly distributes the barium around your upper digestive tract and allows the X-ray to capture images at different angles.

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If you do not respond to treatment or if you develop new symptoms, your doctor may perform a gastroscopy, or endoscopic exam, in which a flexible fiber-optic tube is inserted down your throat to give the doctor a direct view of the inside of your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. This allows the doctor to determine the presence and cause of bleeding and test for any bacterial infection. During this exam, your doctor may also conduct a biopsy to check for cancer.

What Are the Treatments for an Ulcer?

Medications are usually used to treat mild-to-moderate ulcers. If the cause is bacterial, antibiotics can cure the ulcer. For recurrent, severe cases that do not respond to medication, surgery may be necessary.

Although alternative therapies have been shown to aid in the relief of symptoms, they should be used only as supplements to conventional treatment.

You should not treat an ulcer on your own without first seeing your doctor. Over-the-counter antacids and acid blockers may relieve some or all of the pain, but the relief is always short-lived. With a doctor's help, you can find relief from the ulcer pain, as well as a lifelong cure from the disease. Proton-pump inhibitor drugs such as Prilosec are the most cost-effective treatment options for peptic ulcers.

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