A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of the stomach or the first part of the small intestine. This area of the small intestine is called the duodenum. Peptic ulcers may be named by their location: Gastric ulcers
are in the stomach
are in the duodenum
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Upsets in the balance of stomach acid and digestive juices can lead to an ulcer. This can be caused by: Helicobacter pylori
Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Less common causes include: Zollinger-Ellison syndromeRadiation therapyBacterial or viral infectionsAlcohol use disorderTumorsOther medications, such as steroids or those to treat osteoporosis
Severe stress such as surgery,
, head injury,
Factors that may increase your chance of peptic ulcer include: H. pylori
Taking NSAIDs for a long time and at higher dosesPrior peptic ulcer diseaseCigarette smokingAlcohol use disorder
Peptic ulcers do not always cause symptoms. Symptoms may come and go. Food or fluids sometimes make symptoms better. Having an empty stomach may make symptoms worse. However, symptoms can occur at any time.
Symptoms may include:
May awaken you from sleepMay change when you eatMay last for a few minutes or several hoursFeels like unusually strong hunger pangsMay be relieved by taking antacidsNauseaVomitingLoss of appetiteBloatingBurpingWeight loss
Ulcers can cause serious problems and severe abdominal pain. One problem is bleeding. Bleeding symptoms may include: Bloody or black, tarry stoolsVomiting what looks like coffee grounds or bloodWeaknessLightheadedness
A perforated ulcer is a break through the wall of the stomach or duodenum. It causes sudden and severe pain.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include:
Rectal exam and
stool guaiac testBlood test, stool test, or breath testEndoscopyUpper GI seriesBiopsy
Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options may include one or more of the following:
Your doctor may recommend: Antibiotics if an infection is present or possibleOver-the-counter antacidsProton pump inhibitorsH-2
blockersMedications to coat ulcerMedications to protect stomach against NSAID damage
You and your doctor will discuss lifestyle changes. These may include: Quit smoking
. Smoking worsens symptoms and slows healing.
Limit alcohol intake.Avoid NSAIDs. This includes common over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen .
Surgery and/or endoscopy may be recommended for: An ulcer that won't healRecurring ulcersA bleeding ulcerA perforated ulcerProblems with food passing out of stomach
This may be done to stop bleeding. A thin, lighted tube is inserted down the throat into the stomach or intestine. Heat, electricity, epinephrine, or a substance called fibrin glue can then be applied to the area. This should stop the blood flow.
Surgery for peptic ulcers is rare, but it can greatly reduce acid production. Common procedures include: Removal of the ulcerRemoval of part of the stomach or small intestineTying off the bleeding blood vesselTaking tissue from another part of the intestine and oversewing the ulcerCutting part of the nerve that goes to the stomach to reduce acid production
To help reduce your chance of H. pylori
Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.Drink water from a safe source.Don't smoke
. Cigarette smoking increases the chances of getting an ulcer.
To help reduce your chance of a peptic ulcer from NSAIDs: Use other drugs when possible for managing pain.Take the lowest possible dose.Don't take drugs longer than needed.Don't drink alcohol while taking the drugs.Ask your doctor about switching to medicines less likely to cause ulcers. Talk to your doctor about taking other drugs to protect your stomach and intestine lining.Don't smoke.
Cigarette smoking increases the chances of getting an ulcer.
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Peptic ulcer disease. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at:
http://patients.gi.org/topics/peptic-ulcer-disease. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Peptic ulcer disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 22, 2013. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Peptic ulcers and H. pylori. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at:
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/peptic-ulcer/Documents/hpylori_508.pdf. Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Understanding peptic ulcer disease.
American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at:
http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/peptic-ulcer-disease. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Last reviewed February 2015 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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