Peptic ulcers are sores or eroded areas that form in the lining of the digestive tract. They usually occur in the stomach (gastric ulcer) or in the duodenum (duodenal ulcer), which is the first part of the small intestine.
People with peptic ulcers can have a wide variety of signs and symptoms, can be completely symptom-free or, much less commonly, can develop potentially life-threatening complications such as bleeding.
Signs and symptoms of ulcers can include:
- pain / burning or discomfort (usually in the upper abdomen)
- an early sense of fullness with eating
- lack of appetite
- bleeding, which is made apparent by blood in the stool, either in noticeable or microscopic amounts (very brisk bleeding will result in black and tarry stools that smell bad)
Smoking, alcohol, anti-inflammatory medication and aspirin increase the risk of developing ulcers. Psychological stress and dietary factors (once thought to be the cause of ulcers) do not appear to have a major role in their development.
Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that is frequently found in the stomach is a major cause of stomach ulcers. If this is found you will be given a course of antibiotics.
Diagnosis is made by the history, examination and sometimes blood tests. You may be asked to have a gastroscopy (see above) to clarify the diagnosis and aid with treatment.
Treatment consists of medication to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach which aids in the healing of ulcers and avoidance of things that cause ulcers in the first place.