Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop on the inside lining of your stomach and the upper portion of your small intestine. The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is stomach pain.
Peptic ulcers include:
The most common causes of peptic ulcers are infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. Stress and spicy foods do not cause peptic ulcers. However, they can make your symptoms worse.
The most common peptic ulcer symptom is burning stomach pain. Stomach acid makes the pain worse, as does having an empty stomach. The pain can often be relieved by eating certain foods that buffer stomach acid or by taking an acid-reducing medication, but then it may come back. The pain may be worse between meals and at night.
Many people with peptic ulcers don’t even have symptoms.
Less often, ulcers may cause severe signs or symptoms such as:
In addition to having risks related to taking NSAIDs, you may have an increased risk of peptic ulcers if you:
Alone, these factors do not cause ulcers, but they can make ulcers worse and more difficult to heal
Left untreated, peptic ulcers can result in:
To detect an ulcer, your doctor may first take a medical history and perform a physical exam. You then may need to undergo diagnostic tests, such as:
Doctors are more likely to recommend endoscopy if you are older, have signs of bleeding, or have experienced recent weight loss or difficulty eating and swallowing. If the endoscopy shows an ulcer in your stomach, a follow-up endoscopy should be performed after treatment to show that it has healed, even if your symptoms improve.
Treatment for peptic ulcers depends on the cause. Usually treatment will involve killing the H. pylori bacterium if present, eliminating or reducing use of NSAIDs if possible, and helping your ulcer to heal with medication.
Medications can include:
Follow-up after initial treatment:
Treatment for peptic ulcers is often successful, leading to ulcer healing. But if your symptoms are severe or if they continue despite treatment, your doctor may recommend endoscopy to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms.
If an ulcer is detected during endoscopy, your doctor may recommend another endoscopy after your treatment to make sure your ulcer has healed. Ask your doctor whether you should undergo follow-up tests after your treatment.