Peptic ulcers are sores, or ulcers, in the lining of the digestive tract. They most often occur in the stomach or the duodenum. Normally, a thick layer of mucus protects the lining of the stomach from digestive juices. A peptic ulcer develops when this protective layer is reduced. The two most common causes of this reduction in the protective stomach lining are an infection from bacteria called H. Pylori and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Peptic ulcers are fairly common and affect more than 4 million people each year in the United States. Most peptic ulcers heal but some may worsen over time.
Peptic ulcers may or may not cause symptoms. People who have a peptic ulcer may experience a wide variety of symptoms. Symptoms of a peptic ulcer may include: pain or discomfort (usually in the upper abdomen), bloating, an early sense of fullness when eating, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or blood in the stools. Many of these symptoms can also occur in people who do not have an ulcer. Peptic ulcers can rarely develop complications that are life-threatening.
If you suspect that you have a peptic ulcer you should schedule a consultation with your gastroenterologist. Your gastroenterologist may order an upper endoscopy (EGD) to look at your stomach and duodenum to check for an ulcer and check for the bacteria H. Pylori. If an ulcer is found, the initial step of treatment will be to identify the cause. If the bacteria H. Pylori is found it will be treated with a combination of a proton pump inhibitor and an antibiotic for 7 to 14 days. If an ulcer is found, you will be asked to stop NSAIDS. You may also be asked to make lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking or overindulging in alcohol.