A peptic ulcer is a sore that can form on the lining of the stomach or duodenum. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine.
Some people with peptic ulcers have no symptoms. Other people can have symptoms that include:
- Pain in the upper belly – Ulcers in the stomach often cause pain soon after a person eats. Ulcers in the duodenum often cause pain or burning when a person’s stomach is empty.
- Bloating, or feeling full after eating a small amount of food
- Not feeling hungry
- Nausea or vomiting
All of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. But if you have these symptoms, let your doctor or nurse know.
Sometimes, peptic ulcers can lead to serious problems. These include:
- Bleeding – This can cause smelly and black-colored bowel movements, vomiting blood, or more rarely, bright red bowel movements.
- A hole in the wall of the stomach or duodenum – This can cause sudden and severe belly pain.
- Obstruction – This is a blockage of the intestine. It can cause a feeling of fullness, bloating, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, belly pain shortly after eating, and weight loss.
Common causes of peptic ulcers include:
- An infection in the stomach or duodenum – This kind of infection is caused by a type of bacteria called “Helicobacter pylori” or “H. pylori.”
- Medicines called “nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs” (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs include pain-relieving medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen(sample brand names: Advil, Motrin), and naproxen(sample brand names: Aleve, Naprosyn).
Yes. If you have symptoms of a peptic ulcer, your doctor might do:
- Tests to check for H. pyloriinfection – Doctors can check for H. pylori infection by doing:
- Breath tests – These tests measure substances in a person’s breath after they have been given a special liquid to drink
- Lab tests that check a sample of a bowel movement for the infection
- A procedure called an “upper endoscopy” – During an upper endoscopy, a doctor puts a thin tube with a camera on the end into a person’s mouth and down into the stomach and duodenum. Then they check the lining of the stomach and duodenum for ulcers.
Treatment depends on the cause, but most peptic ulcers are treated with medicines.
People with H. pylori infection are often treated with 3 or more medicines for 2 weeks to get rid of the infection. This treatment can include:
- Medicine to reduce the amount of acid that the stomach makes
- Different types of antibiotics
Some people need to take medicines that reduce the amount of acid for a longer amount of time. Some people take these medicines for the rest of their life.
It is important to follow all your doctors’ instructions about taking your medicines. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have any side effects from your medicines.
People who have serious problems from their peptic ulcers might also need to be treated with surgery.
After treatment, people often have follow-up tests. These can include:
- Tests to check that the H. pyloriinfection has gone away
- An upper endoscopy to check that the peptic ulcer has healed
To help a peptic ulcer heal and to prevent future peptic ulcers, you can:
- Not smoke
- Not take NSAIDs (if possible)