Peptic Ulcers

What is a peptic ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of your stomach or duodenum. The duodenum is the first part of your small intestine. If peptic ulcers are found in the stomach, they’re called gastric ulcers. If they’re found in the duodenum, they’re called duodenal ulcers. You can have more than one ulcer. Many people have peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers can be treated successfully.

What are the symptoms of peptic ulcers?

A burning pain in the gut is the most common symptom. The pain

  • feels like a dull ache
  • comes and goes for a few days or weeks
  • starts 2 to 3 hours after a meal
  • comes in the middle of the night when your stomach is empty
  • usually goes away after you eat

Other symptoms are losing weight, not feeling like eating, having pain while eating, feeling sick to your stomach and vomiting

What causes peptic ulcers?

Peptic ulcers are caused by

  • bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori for short
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • other diseases

Your body makes strong acids that digest food. A lining protects the inside of your stomach and duodenum from these acids. If the lining breaks down, the acids can damage the walls. Both H. pylori and NSAIDs weaken the lining so acid can reach the stomach or duodenal wall.
H. pylori causes almost two-thirds of all ulcers. Many people have H. pylori infections. But not everyone who has an infection will develop a peptic ulcer. Most other ulcers are caused by NSAIDs. Only rarely do other diseases cause ulcers.

Do stress or spicy foods cause peptic ulcers?

No, neither stress nor spicy foods cause ulcers. But they can make ulcers worse. Drinking alcohol or smoking can make ulcers worse, too.

What increases my risk of getting peptic ulcers?

You’re more likely to develop a peptic ulcer if you

  • have an H. pylori infection
  • use NSAIDs often
  • smoke cigarettes
  • drink alcohol

Can peptic ulcers get worse?

Peptic ulcers will get worse if they aren’t treated. Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • sudden sharp pain that doesn’t go away
  • black or bloody stools
  • bloody vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds

These could be signs that

  • the ulcer has gone through, or perforated, the stomach or duodenal wall
  • the ulcer has broken a blood vessel

How are peptic ulcers treated?

Peptic ulcers can be cured. Medicines for peptic ulcers are

  • proton pump inhibitors or histamine receptor blockers to stop your stomach from making acids
  • antibiotics to kill the bacteria

Depending on your symptoms, you may take one or more of these medicines for a few weeks. They’ll stop the pain and help heal your stomach or duodenum.

Ulcers take time to heal. Take your medicines even if the pain goes away. If these medicines make you feel sick or dizzy, or cause diarrhea or headaches, your doctor can change your medicines.

If NSAIDs caused your peptic ulcer, you’ll need to stop taking them. If you smoke, quit. Smoking slows healing of ulcers.

Can peptic ulcers come back?

Yes. If you stop taking your antibiotic too soon, not all the bacteria will be gone and not all the sores will be healed. If you still smoke or take NSAIDs, your ulcers may come back.

What happens if peptic ulcers don’t heal? Will I need surgery?

In many cases, medicine heals ulcers. You may need surgery if your ulcers

  • don’t heal
  • keep coming back
  • perforate, bleed, or obstruct the stomach or duodenum

Surgery can

  • remove the ulcers
  • reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes

What can I do to prevent peptic ulcers?

  • Stop using NSAIDs. Talk with your doctor about other pain relievers.

What can I do to lower my risk of getting peptic ulcers?

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
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