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Peptic Ulcers

Symptoms and treatment of peptic ulcer disease

Peptic ulcers are erroneously thought to be caused by stress or spicy foods, but they are actually the result of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes an open sore in the lining of your stomach. While many people think that only adults in high-stress situations can experience ulcers, the truth is, ulcers can be experienced by almost anyone. Ulcers can appear in the stomach or duodenum and can be very painful, sometimes leading to severe complications.

Causes and Symptoms of Peptic Ulcers

There are two types of peptic ulcers: stomach and duodenal. Stomach ulcers, or gastric ulcers, appear in the lining of the stomach. They are caused when the mucus lining the stomach is weakened or broken down by a drug or by H. pylori. This allows acid to flow through to the sensitive lining beneath the mucus, allowing bacteria to gain access and create an ulcer. Extreme stress can cause an overproduction of acid, which, in turn, can also cause an ulcer.

Many ulcers are caused by the overuse of medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Taken without food or milk, these drugs can cause the acid in the stomach to overproduce, causing heartburn and gastritis as well as ulcers.

Symptoms of both stomach and duodenal ulcers can include:

  • Burning pain in the abdomen between the breastbone and the belly button (this is the most common ulcer symptom)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent burping or hiccupping
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in vomit or in diarrhea (may take the appearance of black coffee grounds)

Left untreated, ulcers can cause gastritis — an inflammation of the stomach lining — bleeding or even stomach cancer, so it's important to seek medical attention when stomach ulcer symptoms appear.

Treatment for Peptic Ulcers

Your doctor may choose to examine your stomach by conducting an upper GI scan, or endoscopy. This involves inserting a small, thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end into your throat and down into your stomach. This will allow the doctor to see any ulcers or inflammation forming. He or she then may be able to diagnose the presence of H. pylori by tissue tests or a blood test.

If you are diagnosed with ulcers, your doctor will likely prescribe an antacid and antibiotics to treat the infection and stop acid from causing any more damage to your stomach lining. Occasionally, surgery is required for very severe ulcers, but this is rarely the case.

Peptic ulcer disease is painful, but once treated, is rarely serious. If you experience recurring ulcers, speak to your doctor. He or she may decide that a more aggressive course of action is needed to prevent a secondary complication.

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