Peptic ulcer (stomach ulcer)

A peptic ulcer is a sore that happens when the digestive juices produced by the stomach eat away or erode the lining of the digestive tract. Peptic ulcers may form in the lining of the stomach (gastric ulcers) or just below the stomach, at the start of the small intestine (duodenal ulcers).

Some peptic ulcers are stomach ulcers. And some peptic ulcers are in the first part of the intestine (duodenum).

The most common causes of peptic ulcers are infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria and frequent use of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Common symptoms of an ulcer include:

  • Burning, aching, and gnawing pain between the navel and the breastbone (epigastric pain), possibly extending to the back.
    • Pain may last minutes or hours and is often relieved by eating or by taking antacids or a stomach acid blocker.
    • Weeks of pain that comes and goes may alternate with pain-free periods.
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss.
  • Bloating, nausea, or vomiting after eating. Vomit may contain bright red blood or partially digested blood that looks like coffee grounds.
  • Black, tarry stools. Dark red blood may be mixed in stool.

Treatment with medicine usually is effective at relieving symptoms caused by peptic ulcers. When the ulcer is caused by infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the right combination of antibiotics can cure the ulcer disease. Surgery may be needed if the ulcer causes excess bleeding in the digestive tract or if a hole (perforation) develops in the stomach or intestine.

Last Updated: January 6, 2010

Author: Monica Rhodes

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Jerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology

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