What Is a Peptic Ulcer?
It’s a myth that spicy foods and stress cause peptic ulcers. A peptic ulcer is a type of sore that develops in the digestive system. The word “ulcer” means open sore, and “peptic” means that acid is the cause of the sore. However, this terminology is from a prior era when all ulcers in the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum were thought to be caused by acid damage. Nowadays, we know that most ulcers are not caused by excessive acid, so the term “peptic ulcer” is somewhat misleading.
Types of Peptic Ulcers
The most common kinds of peptic ulcers are:
Gastric ulcers: A common type of ulcer, these occur on the inside of the stomach.
Duodenal ulcers: These are located at the beginning of the small intestine (called the small bowel or duodenum).
Esophageal ulcers: These occur inside the esophagus (the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach).
You can have more than one kind of peptic ulcer at the same time.
Causes of Peptic Ulcers
For a long time, it was believed that spicy foods or stress could lead to peptic ulcers – but doctors now know that this isn’t the case. In fact, the most common causes of ulcers are:
- Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacteria that can infect your stomach.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin
- Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), and others
If you’re at risk for peptic ulcers, talk to your doctor about prescribing painkillers that are NSAID and does not contain aspirin.
Peptic Ulcer Symptoms
While many people with peptic ulcers don’t experience any symptoms, upper abdominal pain is the most common symptom. This abdominal pain may:
- Extend from your navel up to your breastbone
- Feel worse when your stomach is empty
- Feel better temporarily when you eat certain foods or take an antacid
- Get worse at night
- Come and go for days or weeks
Other symptoms of a peptic ulcer may include:
- Vomiting of red or dark blood
- Feeling bloated or full
- Bloody, black, or tarry stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Changes in your appetite
- Ulcers can cause bleeding that occurs slowly over time or quickly, possibly resulting in life-threatening hemorrhaging due to shock.
- Sometimes you may not notice a bleeding ulcer until you become anemic, a condition in which your body lacks red blood cells due to inadequate iron.
This occurs when ulcers result in chronic, low-grade blood loss. If you have anemia, you may feel tired, experience shortness of breath, and have pale skin.
If bleeding occurs quickly, you may notice:
- Dark, sticky, or bloody stools
- Bloody vomit
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Peptic Ulcer Treatment
- Your course of treatment will be based on what’s causing the ulcer. Possible treatments include antibiotic drugs to kill Helicobacter pylori bacteria in your digestive tract.
- Your doctor may also recommend antacids to neutralize stomach acid and reduce pain.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are drugs that block acid production and promote healing.
- Acid reducers, also called H2 blockers, reduce acid production and relieve ulcer pain
Additionally, there are cytoprotective agents – drugs that protect the lining of your stomach and small intestine – that can relieve symptoms of an ulcer.