What are peptic ulcers?
Peptic ulcers are sores found in the lining of the stomach, upper portion of the small intestine, or the lining of the esophagus that can cause moderate to severe burning pain. There are a few types of peptic ulcers. These include:
- Gastric ulcers – Ulcers that occur inside of the stomach
- Esophageal ulcers – Ulcers that occur within the esophagus
- Duodenal ulcers – Ulcers that occur inside the upper portion of the small intestine
Signs and symptoms of peptic ulcers
Burning pain is the most common symptom of a peptic ulcer. The ulcer is often aggravated by stomach acid coming in contact with the ulcerated area. The pain can typically:
- Occur anywhere from your navel up to your breastbone
- Feel worse when your stomach is empty
- Worsen at night
- Be relieved temporarily by eating certain foods that buffer stomach acid or by taking an acid-reducing medication
- Disappear and then return again
Less often, ulcers may cause severe signs or symptoms like:
- The vomiting of black or red blood
- Dark blood in stools
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Appetite changes
Causes of peptic ulcers
Peptic ulcers can be caused by a variety of factors. Though many believe ulcers can be caused by spicy foods or stressful jobs, this is simply a myth. Peptic ulcers are actually caused by:
- A bacterium – An infection of bacteria called helicobacter pylori can cause ulcers to develop. Found in the mucous layer that protects the tissues that line the stomach and small intestine, this bacteria can cause inflammation of the stomach’s inner layer, resulting in an ulcer. Helicobacter pylori has been found to be passed from person to person or through food and water.
- Regular use of certain pain medications – Some pain relievers including aspirin and ibuprofen can irritate or inflame the lining of the stomach and small intestine, resulting in an ulcer.
- Use of other medications – Medications used to treat osteoporosis called bisphosphonates and potassium supplements can lead to ulcers.
Keep in mind that smoking and drinking alcohol can make your body more prone to developing ulcers by irritating the stomach and decreasing your immunity.
Treatment of peptic ulcers
If peptic ulcers are not treated, they can lead to serious health problems. Depending on the cause and severity of your peptic ulcer, there are a few different treatment options:
- Lifestyle adjustments – Limiting or eliminating alcohol and smoking from your life can help to reduce irritation to the ulcer.
- Medications – Depending on your case, proton pump inhibitors or antibiotics can help treat ulcers. Proton pump inhibitors help reduce acid levels and antibiotics help treat a helicobacter pylori infection.
- Surgical procedures – If the ulcer has created a hole in the wall of the stomach, surgical operations may be necessary. Minimal bleeding caused by a peptic ulcer can also be treated with an upper endoscopy.
Preventing peptic ulcers
To reduce your risk of developing a peptic ulcer:
- Avoid tobacco products
- Avoid alcohol
- Use caution with aspirin and/or NSAIDs
- Don’t ignore your ulcer symptoms
- Protect yourself from infections by washing hands regularly and consuming foods that have been cooked thoroughly
If you or someone you love has been experiencing symptoms of a peptic ulcer, call the gastrointestinal specialists at Hunterdon Gastroenterology Associates at (908) 818-0129 today to book your next appointment.