Peptic (Stomach) Ulcers

Peptic ulcers are open sores that can develop on the inside lining of the esophagus, stomach or upper portion of the small intestine. In the esophagus, they are called esophageal ulcers. When found in the stomach, they are called gastric ulcers. If they occur in the upper portion of the small intestine, they are called duodenal ulcers.

The direct cause of peptic ulcers is the destruction of the gastric or intestinal mucosal lining of the stomach by hydrochloric acid, an acid normally present in the digestive juices of the stomach. Infection with the bacterium helicobacter pylori is thought to play an important role in causing both gastric and duodenal ulcers.

Ulcers affect millions of people in the United States every year. The pain associated with this condition is easily confused with heartburn, indigestion and hunger, so it is important to monitor your symptoms.

Symptoms

    • Burning or gnawing pain in the stomach area lasting anywhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Changes in appetite
    • Dark blood in stools
    • Vomiting blood (severe symptom)

    Diagnosis

    To detect an ulcer, your physician will perform an endoscopy. If an ulcer is found, a small tissue sample may be removed and sent to the lab for testing. Endoscopy is usually only recommended for older patients or for patients who have experienced bleeding symptoms, recent weight loss or difficulty eating. Testing for helicobacter pylori by a breath test, stool sample or blood test is usually the first step, if less severe symptoms are present.

    Learn more about Endoscopy

    Treatment

    Treatment for peptic ulcers typically involves the use of antibiotics to kill the helicobacter pylori bacteria. Other medications that reduce the level of acid in the digestive system may also be prescribed to relieve pain and promote healing.

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