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What Are Peptic Ulcers?

October 27, 2020
Sarah Falcone RN

Perhaps you know the feeling, that dull gnawing pain in your stomach. It could be a peptic ulcer. But maybe you are unsure about when to you see a doctor. Here is some helpful information if you’ve found yourself wondering, just what are peptic ulcers?

Peptic ulcers are sores or blisters that develop in the lining of the esophagus, the stomach, or the intestine. They can occur when the body’s natural protective lining is worn away or stops functioning properly and the underlying tissue is damaged.

So why does this happen and what should you do about it? Read on to find out.

What Are Peptic Ulcers?

An ulcer is an open blister or a sore. The term “peptic ulcer” describes one of these lesions located in the lining of the digestive system, also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) system.

Doctors commonly refer to peptic ulcers according to where they are located:

  • Esophageal ulcers are located in the esophagus, the tube that travels from your mouth to your stomach
  • Gastric ulcers originate in the stomach lining
  • Duodenal ulcers are those located at the junction between your lower stomach and the small intestine

A normal healthy digestive system is lined with a protective mucous barrier. This mucosal lining prevents harmful substances such as acidic beverages, medication ingredients, and even stomach secretions from damaging the tissues underneath. Sometimes, this physical barrier is compromised and part of the GI tract is irritated.

What Causes Peptic Ulcers?

Peptic ulcers form when the body’s natural protective mucus lining is worn away or is not functioning correctly.

The most common cause is a bacterial infection by Helicobacter Pylori or commonly known as H. Pylori. This organism grows in the stomach lining causing irritation that can prevent it from healing. Ulcers related to H. Pylori infection are seen more commonly in developing nations, but are seen here in the U.S. as well.

Another leading cause of gastric ulcers is the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, known as NSAIDs, because these contain ingredients known to irritate the stomach lining. Recent research has found that aspirin users are twice as likely to develop stomach ulcers.

Other risk factors for developing these ulcers are lifestyle factors such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and physiologic stress. These can impair the body’s natural defense.

What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms?

Some patients experience epigastric pain that is the classic sign of a GI ulcer. Many patients describe the discomfort as a dull, gnawing sensation or even a burning in your abdomen. Some individuals may also associate the onset of pain with eating a meal. Meanwhile, others report symptoms including nausea, feeling bloated, or not being able to eat a full meal.

A recent study in the American Journal of Medicine reports that as many as two-thirds of individuals with peptic ulcer disease may not even have any signs or symptoms.

An endoscopy test passes a camera through the GI tract to look for ulcers. This is the best way to diagnose a peptic ulcer.

When Should I See a Physician?

Talk to your doctor if you think you might have a peptic ulcer. They can treat you and may recommend medications. The most effective treatment today is proton pump inhibitors or PPIs. Usually, they are taken just once in the morning, these are a relatively safe therapy and there are many available over the counter. For example, you may recognize names such as Nexium or Prilosec.

Your physician may also prescribe other drugs to treat your condition such as antibiotics for an infection. Additionally, they can also make recommendations to reduce symptoms.

If you have been diagnosed with an ulcer already then there are a few more signs to be alert for. Serious complications of peptic ulcers include gastrointestinal bleeding or even perforation or tearing of the lining. Signs of these would require urgent medical attention and are reasons to go to an emergency room:

  • Vomiting fluid that contains black particles could mean you are bleeding somewhere in your digestive system. This “coffee ground emesis” is a serious condition.
  • Abnormal stools such as black, thick, “tarry” or bloody bowel movements may also indicate internal bleeding.
  • A sudden and severe pain in your stomach could mean that you have experienced a tear or a perforation in your GI system.

Conclusion

Pain, the classic symptom associated with a stomach ulcer, may or may not be a peptic ulcer. This means that if you have abdominal pain that is bothering you, let your physician know about it. Then they will discuss your symptoms, as well as the best treatment for you.

If you still have questions or you would like to discuss your problem with a specialist click below to schedule an appointment. MyVirtualPhysician treats conditions including abdominal pain, upset stomach, and more. If you have any suggestions for additional topics you want to read about please let us know! Don’t forget to follow us on social media.

Sources:

Kavitt, R. T., Lipowska, A. M., Anyane-Yeboa, A., & Gralnek, I. M. (2019). Diagnosis and Treatment of Peptic Ulcer Disease. The American journal of medicine132(4), 447–456. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2018.12.009

Lukáš M. (2018). Therapy for peptic ulcer disease. Terapie peptického vředu. Vnitrni lekarstvi64(6), 595–599.

Narayanan, M., Reddy, K. M., & Marsicano, E. (2018). Peptic Ulcer Disease and Helicobacter pylori infection. Missouri medicine115(3), 219–224.

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