Peptic ulcers are sores in the esophagus, stomach, or the first part of the small intestine. Since the lining of these areas exists to protect the underlying tissues from stomach, the symptoms of a peptic ulcer can be unpleasant, and the long-term implications can be serious if the condition is untreated.
Types of Peptic Ulcers
Ulcers are classified based on their location. The three main types of ulcers are:
- Esophageal ulcer - Occurs in the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach
- Gastric ulcer - An ulcer in the stomach itself
- Duodenal ulcer - Occurs in the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine
Causes of Peptic Ulcers
The digestive tract is normally protected by digestive chemicals like stomach acid by a layer of protective mucous. If the amount of mucous decreases, or the amount of acid increases, then an ulcer might occur.
There are a lot of myths about the causes of peptic ulcers. For example, many people believe that spicy foods or stress can cause peptic ulcers; this is a myth. The two most common causes of peptic ulcers are bacterial infection and medications. Infection by the microorganism H. pylori can cause ulcers. Another culprit is taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen sodium for an extended period of time. Less commonly, a gastrinoma, or a tumor of the acid-secreting cells in the stomach, can cause peptic ulcers.
There are a couple of lifestyle factors that can increase a person's risk of developing a peptic ulcer. Smoking and frequent alcohol consumption are both associated with a higher risk.
Symptoms of Peptic Ulcers
Pain is the single most common symptom of a peptic ulcer, and it's easy to see why. The ulcer itself, as a form of damage to the tissue, causes pain. It then comes into contact with acid from the stomach, which exacerbates the pain. More specifically, symptoms can include:
- Burning pain in the stomach, that gets worse between meals, at night, or when the stomach is empty
- Nausea and vomiting
- Appetite changes
- Weight loss
Antacids and certain foods may provide temporary relief, but the symptoms will keep coming back if there is a peptic ulcer. If you have persistent pain, concerning symptoms, or severe symptoms such as vomiting blood, you should make an appointment with your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment of Peptic Ulcers
Untreated peptic ulcers can cause serious problems, including infection, a hole in the stomach, scar tissue that blocks the passage of food through the digestive system, and internal bleeding. Therefore, it's important for patients with peptic ulcers to get effective treatment as soon as they recognize that there is a problem.
Potential treatments for a peptic ulcer include:
- Eliminating potential causes such as smoking, alcohol use, and NSAIDs
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), a class of medications that lower acid production so that the ulcer can heal. Examples include Prilosec and Protonix.
- Antibiotics may be used if the ulcer is caused by bacteria.
- Endoscopy may be used to treat certain ulcers.
- Surgery may be used in severe cases, such as when there is internal bleeding or a hole in the stomach
If you have symptoms of a peptic ulcer, it's important to get treatment and diagnosis, both to alleviate symptoms and to prevent the condition from worsening. To schedule a consultation today, please contact one of the doctors at Gastroenterology Associates at (225) 927-1190.