A fairly common health problem, peptic ulcers are usually found in the lining of the stomach, lower esophagus, or small intestine. These ulcers are sores that develop gradually in patients.
The three types of peptic ulcers
gastric ulcers: ulcers that develop inside the stomach
esophageal ulcers: ulcers that develop inside the esophagus
duodenal ulcers: ulcers that develop in the upper section of the small intestines, called the duodenum
Symptoms of peptic ulcers
The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is burning abdominal pain that extends from the navel to the chest, which can range from mild to severe. In some cases, the pain may wake you up at night. Small peptic ulcers may not produce any symptoms in the early phases.
Other common signs of a peptic ulcer include
- changes in appetite
- bloody or dark stools
- unexplained weight loss
- chest pain
If you have such symptoms, consulting a gastroenterologist is the first step you can take to get on the recovery track.
Causes of peptic ulcers
Different factors can cause the lining of the stomach, the esophagus, and the small intestine to break down. These include:
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a type of bacteria that can cause a stomach infection and inflammation
- frequent use of aspirin, ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory drugs
- drinking too much alcohol
- radiation therapy
- stomach cancer
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your ulcer. If tests show that you have an H. pylori infection, your doctor will prescribe a combination of medication. You’ll have to take the medications for up to two weeks. The medications include antibiotics to help kill infections and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to help reduce stomach acid.
If your doctor determines that you don’t have an H. pylori infection, they may recommend a prescription or over-the-counter PPI (such as Prilosec or Prevacid) for up to eight weeks to reduce stomach acid and help your ulcer heal. Acid blockers like ranitidine or famotidine can also reduce stomach acid and ulcer pain. With proper treatment, most peptic ulcers heal. Your doctor will schedule a follow-up appointment after your initial treatment to evaluate your recovery.
Complications of a peptic ulcer
Untreated ulcers can become worse over time. They can lead to other more serious health complications such as stomach perforation, internal bleeding, or scar tissue.
Preventing peptic ulcers
Certain lifestyle choices and habits can reduce your risk of developing peptic ulcers. These include:
- not drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day
- not mixing alcohol with medication
- washing your hands frequently to avoid infections
- limiting your use of ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by quitting smoking cigarettes and other tobacco use and eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help you prevent developing a peptic ulcer.