Peptic Ulcers

What is a peptic ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is a sore on the lining of your stomach or the first part of your small intestine (duodenum). If the ulcer is in your stomach, it is also called a gastric ulcer. If the ulcer is in your duodenum, it is also called a duodenal ulcer.  

Ulcers are fairly common.

What causes peptic ulcers?

In the past, experts thought lifestyle factors such as stress and diet caused ulcers. Today we know that stomach acids and other digestive juices help create ulcers. These fluids burn the linings of your organs.

Causes of peptic ulcers include:

  • H. pylori
    bacteria (Helicobacter pylori

    ). Most ulcers are caused by an infection from a bacteria or germ called H. pylori.
    This bacteria hurts the mucus that protects the lining of your stomach and the first
    part of your small intestine (the duodenum). Stomach acid then gets through to the
    lining.
  • NSAIDs
    (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines).
    These are over-the-counter pain
    and fever medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Over time they can
    damage the mucus that protects the lining of your stomach.

What are the symptoms of peptic ulcers?

Each
person’s symptoms may vary. In some cases, ulcers don’t cause any symptoms.

The most common ulcer symptom is a dull or burning pain in your belly between your breastbone and your belly button (navel). This pain often occurs around meal times and may wake you up at night. It can last from a few minutes to a few hours.

Less common ulcer symptoms may include:

  • Feeling full after eating a small amount of food
  • Burping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Bloody or black stool
  • Vomiting blood

Peptic ulcer symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.

How are peptic ulcers diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will look at your past health and give you a physical exam. You may also have some tests.

Imaging tests used to diagnose ulcers include:

  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series or barium swallow. This test looks at the organs of the top part of your digestive system. It checks your food pipe (esophagus), stomach, and the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum). You will swallow a metallic fluid called barium. Barium coats the organs so that they can be seen on an X-ray. 
  • Upper
    endoscopy or EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy).
    This test looks at the lining
    of your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. It uses a thin lighted tube called an
    endoscope. The tube has a camera at one end. The tube is put into your mouth and
    throat. Then it goes into your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Your healthcare
    provider can see the inside of these organs. A small tissue sample (biopsy) can be
    taken. This can be checked for H. pylori.

You may also have the following lab tests to see if you have an H. pylori infection:

  • Blood tests. These check for infection-fighting cells (antibodies) that mean you have H. pylori.
  • Stool
    antigen test.
    A small sample of your stool is collected and sent to a lab. In
    2 or 3 days, the test will show if you have H. pylori.
  • Urea breath test. This checks to see how much carbon dioxide is in your breath when you exhale. You will swallow a urea pill that has carbon molecules. If you have H. pylori, the urea will break down and become carbon dioxide. You will have a sample taken of your breath by breathing into a bag. It will be sent to a lab. If your sample shows higher than normal amounts of carbon dioxide, you have H. pylori.