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Southern DHB Gastroenterology Services

Public Service, Gastroenterology & Hepatology (Liver)

Peptic Ulcers

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 symptoms and signs, can be completely symptom-free or, much less commonly, can develop potentially life-threatening complications such as bleeding.

Signs and symptoms of ulcers include pain / burning or discomfort (usually in the upper abdomen), bloating, an early sense of fullness with eating, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting and 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 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 lifestyle modification like losing weight, eating smaller meals, smoking cessation, reducing caffeinated, carbonated and alcoholic drink intake.  Medication can be prescribed in the short term to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach which aids in the healing of active ulcers.

This page was last updated at 10:01AM on March 15, 2021.