Peptic Ulcers - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Peptic Ulcers

What Is a Peptic Ulcer?

An ulcer is an open sore, or lesion, usually found on the skin or mucous membrane areas of the body. An ulcer in the lining of the stomach or duodenum is referred to as a peptic ulcer.

Symptoms of a Peptic Ulcer

Early symptoms of stomach ulcers are very similar to and may be confused with symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux, including burning stomach pain and/or nausea. If untreated, ulcers can cause severe symptoms such as bloating, vomiting blood, dark blood in stools, nausea or vomiting, unexplained weight loss and appetite changes.

Stomach ulcer symptoms are generally worse with an empty stomach and typically feel better after eating. That’s because when your stomach is empty, there’s a better chance of stomach acids irritating the ulcer – food can act as a buffer between stomach acids and the ulcer.

What Causes an Ulcer?

Research shows that most ulcers develop as a result of infection from the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). The bacterium produces substances that weaken the stomach's protective mucus and make it more susceptible to the damaging effects of acid and pepsin. However, other lifestyle factors may increase your risk of developing an ulcer. These factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking Too Much Caffeine or Alcohol
  • Emotional or Physical Stress
  • Taking too many Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (such as aspirin or ibuprofen)

Treating an Ulcer

In most cases, anti-ulcer medications heal ulcers quickly and effectively, and eradication of H. pylori prevents most ulcers from recurring. However, people who do not respond to medication, or who develop complications, may require surgery.

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