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Peptic ulcers are eroded areas in the stomach (gastric ulcers) or first part of the intestine (duodenal ulcers). Ulcers occur in areas where the lining of the stomach or intestine is worn away and irritated, causing pain or bleeding.

Gastric Ulcer

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Normally, a mucous coating protects the lining of the stomach and the intestine. This coating can be disrupted by a bacterial infection from Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or by irritating medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). When this mucous coat is disrupted, strong digestive juices can erode the lining underneath it. This causes the ulcer.

Duodenal Ulcer

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Lifestyle factors such as diet and stress were once thought to be responsible for causing ulcers. However, now we know that the vast majority of ulcers are due to H. pylori infection or NSAID use.

In addition to creating discomfort, ulcers are serious because they can cause:

  • Perforation: If an ulcer eats through the entire wall of your stomach or intestine, it is called a perforated ulcer. This is a very serious and potentially life-threatening condition, since the hole allows the contents of your stomach and intestine to leak out into the abdominal cavity.
  • Obstruction: Scarring from ulcers can block flow through the stomach and/or duodenum. This can cause repeated vomiting, weight loss, and intense pain.
  • Gastric Cancer: People who have had peptic ulcers due to H. pylori have a higher rate of stomach cancer.

Many more people are infected with H. pylori than ever develop an ulcer. Researchers are still trying to understand why some people infected with this kind of bacteria develop ulcers and others don’t. Researchers are also trying to learn how people become infected with H. pylori. It may be passed in food or water. It also seems to live in the saliva of infected people, allowing the bacteria to be passed through kissing, for example.

References:

H. pylori and peptic ulcers. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/hpylori/index.aspx. Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed April 29, 2013.

Meurer LN, Bower DJ. Management of Helicobacter pylori infection. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(7):1327-36.

Peptic ulcer disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated April 22, 2013. Accessed April 29, 2013.

Understanding peptic ulcer disease. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/peptic-ulcer-disease. Published April 23, 2010. Accessed April 29, 2013.

Last reviewed April 2013 by Daus Mahnke, MD; Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


 
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