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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Peptic Ulcer Disease
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Peptic ulcers are sores in the inner lining of the stomach or upper small intestine. They form when the digestive juices produced by the stomach erode or eat away the lining of the digestive tract. Peptic ulcers may form in the lining of the stomach (gastric ulcers) or just below the stomach, at the start of the small intestine (duodenal ulcers).
The most common causes of peptic ulcers are infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria and frequent use of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Symptoms of a peptic ulcer can include a burning, aching, or gnawing pain between the belly button and the breastbone, and belly pain that is temporarily relieved by taking an antacid. Symptoms can also include back pain, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. Some people have no symptoms.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. Your doctor may do some simple tests (using your blood, breath, or stool) to look for signs of H. pylori infection. You may have an endoscopy to check the inside of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.
To treat peptic ulcers, most people take medicines that reduce acid in the stomach. If you have an H. pylori infection, you'll also take antibiotics. You can help your ulcer heal by quitting smoking and limiting alcohol. Using medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen may increase the chance of your ulcer returning.
The two most common causes of peptic ulcers are infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria and use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. H. pylori and NSAIDs break down the protective mucus layer in the stomach or intestine.
Doing the following things can increase your chance of getting a peptic ulcer. They may also slow the healing of an ulcer you already have.
Some things that you can't control may increase your risk of getting an ulcer.
Common symptoms of a peptic ulcer include:
Less common symptoms include:
Different people have different symptoms.
Some ulcers don't cause symptoms. These are known as silent ulcers.
The symptoms of peptic ulcers, such as belly pain, may come and go. Some ulcers will heal by themselves. But even with treatment, ulcers sometimes come back. They may cause problems like bleeding or perforation. That's why it's important to treat an ulcer, even if you don't have any symptoms.
A peptic ulcer may cause problems such as:
Peptic ulcers sometimes bleed.
Perforation occurs when an ulcer eats through the wall of the stomach or intestine into the belly cavity.
If you have been diagnosed with a peptic ulcer, call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you have:
Call your doctor now if you have:
Call your doctor if you have been diagnosed with a peptic ulcer and:
If you've been diagnosed with a peptic ulcer and medical treatment isn't helping, call your doctor. Waiting until your symptoms get worse can be serious.
If you don't know if you have a peptic ulcer and you don't have any of the emergency symptoms listed above, you may try taking an antacid or nonprescription acid reducer and other home treatment, such as making changes to your diet.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and your general health. The doctor 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. This test is called an endoscopy. An endoscopy allows the doctor to look inside your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. It's done to look for an ulcer and to test for H. pylori infection.
You may get other tests to find problems that are caused by peptic ulcers. Tests may include blood tests or X-rays.
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.
You can help speed the healing of your ulcer and prevent it from coming back if you quit smoking and limit alcohol. If you keep using medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, you may increase the chance of your ulcer coming back.
Surgery is rarely used to treat an ulcer. But if your ulcer doesn't heal, or if you have life-threatening complications, you may need surgery.
Ignoring symptoms of an ulcer isn't a good idea. An ulcer needs to be treated. While symptoms can go away for a short time, you may still have an ulcer. Left untreated, an ulcer can cause life-threatening problems. Even with treatment, some ulcers may come back and may need more treatment.
Peptic ulcers are treated with medicines. These medicines reduce acid, kill H. pylori bacteria, and protect the stomach.
You can get some of these medicines over the counter. These include some H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), and acid reducers.
Some medicines that reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach include antacids. (An example is Tums.) These medicines also include acid reducers. Examples are H2 blockers like Pepcid (famotidine) and proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec (omeprazole).
Doctors prescribe a mix of medicines to cure H. pylori infections. This usually includes at least two antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor. Sometimes it includes a bismuth compound.
Medicines are used to protect the stomach from damage caused by often using aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medicines include acid reducers, such as H2 blockers like Tagamet (cimetidine) and proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec (omeprazole).
Current as of:
February 10, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: February 10, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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