WHAT IS IT?
Ulcers are open sores that develop on the inner lining of an organ. The most common ulcers are peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers include:
- Gastric ulcers. Gastric ulcers occur on the inside of the stomach.
- Esophageal ulcers. Esophageal ulcers occur inside the esophagus.
- Duodenal ulcers. They occur on the inside of the upper portion of your small intestine (duodenum).
WHAT’S THE CAUSE?
It’s a myth that spicy foods or a stressful job can cause an ulcer. A bacterial infection or sometimes medications are responsible for most peptic ulcers.
H. pylori bacterium. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria can cause inflammation of the stomach’s inner layer, producing an ulcer. It’s not clear how H. pylori spread. It may be transmitted from close contacts, such as kissing. People may also contract H. pylori through food and water.
Regular use of pain relievers. Certain over-the-counter and prescription pain medications can irritate or inflame the lining of your stomach and small intestine, causing an ulcer.
Burning, gnawing pain is the most common symptom of an ulcer. The pain may:
- Be felt anywhere from your navel up to your breastbone
- Be worse when your stomach is empty
- Flare at night
- Be temporarily relieved by eating certain foods that buffer stomach acid or by taking an acid-reducing medication
Other signs and symptoms may include:
- Vomiting of blood, which may appear red or black
- Dark blood in stools or stools that are black or tarry
- Weight loss and appetite changes
WHAT TESTS TO EXPECT
In order to determine that you have an ulcer, you may undergo a test called an upper endoscopy. It involves passing a slender tube equipped with a lens (endoscope) down your throat and into your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine to look for an ulcer. If an ulcer is found, tissue may be removed (biopsied) to determine the cause.
Another diagnostic test involves a series of X-rays of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. Just before the X-ray, you swallow a white liquid (containing barium) that coats your digestive tract and makes an ulcer more visible. If H. pylori are suspected, it can be diagnosed by non-invasive means, including a blood test or breath test.
Treatment for peptic ulcers often includes a combination of medications:
Antibiotics. If H. pylori are found in your digestive tract, your doctor may recommend a combination of antibiotics to kill the bacterium. You also may be prescribed medications to reduce stomach acid.
Acid blockers. Acid blockers — also called histamine (H-2) blockers — reduce the amount of stomach acid released into your digestive tract, which relieves ulcer pain and encourages healing.
Antacids. Antacids neutralize existing stomach acid and can provide rapid pain relief. Antacids can provide symptom relief but generally aren’t used to heal your ulcer.
Cytoprotective agents. They help protect the tissues that line your stomach and small intestine.
Peptic ulcers that don’t heal with treatment are called refractory ulcers. There are many reasons why an ulcer may fail to heal, including the fact that some types of H. pylori are resistant to antibiotics. Treatment for refractory ulcers generally involves eliminating factors that may interfere with healing, along with using different antibiotics.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.