Peptic Ulcers; Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

What are peptic ulcers?

Peptic ulcers are open sores that can develop in the upper part of the digestive tract, causing various symptoms such as stomach pain, upset stomach, and internal bleeding. Peptic Ulcers

There are two types of peptic ulcers: 

  • Gastric ulcers which form on the lining of the stomach
  • Duodenal ulcers which form on the lining of the upper part of the small intestine (called the duodenum)

Both types of ulcers happen because the mucosal lining of the digestive tract becomes disintegrated. Usually, the mucosal lining protects your organs from stomach acid, however, once this is broken down there is no longer a protective layer. This allows the stomach acid to eat away at the tissues causing the ulcer.

Peptic Ulcer Symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of peptic ulcers has a large hand in whether you have a quick or difficult road to healing ahead of you. 

The common symptoms of peptic ulcers include:

  • Upper abdominal pain or fullness
  • Bloating
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Hematemesis
  • Melena

These symptoms are often similar to those of other conditions or syndromes. But getting them taken care of by your physician will help you to know exactly what your problem is before it becomes worse. 

You should seek medical attention immediately if your peptic ulcer symptoms worsen to the point that you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Black or bloody stools
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Recurrent vomiting for unknown reasons

It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any of the symptoms listed above. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications, such as internal bleeding, infection, and blockage of the digestive tract.

What causes peptic ulcers?

Peptic ulcers form when the protective layer of the digestive tract is broken down, allowing stomach acid to erode the mucosal lining. The two most common causes are a bacterial infection called Helicobacter pylori and the use of medications called NSAIDs.

 Helicobacter pylori infection: This bacteria is one of the most common causes of peptic ulcers, and people who are infected with H. pylori are more likely to develop the condition.

Although most people who have H. pylori do not develop ulcers, it can still contribute to peptic ulcer formation. This is because H. pylori can increase the amount of acid in the stomach and small intestine, cause inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, and break down the protective mucus layer. This creates the perfect environment for peptic ulcers to grow.

Regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can irritate the lining of the stomach and increase the risk of developing peptic ulcers. NSAIDs can cause changes in the protective mucus layer of the digestive tract, leading to ulcers in some people. 

The risk of ulcer formation depends on multiple factors, including the NSAID type, dose, and duration of use.

Neither the presence of H. pylori nor the use of NSAIDs causes ulcers in every case; there are other factors as well:

Other risk factors:

  • Genetics likely play a role, as studies have shown that having a family member with peptic ulcers makes a person more likely to develop ulcers.
  • People who smoke cigarettes are more likely than nonsmokers to develop peptic ulcers.
  • While drinking alcohol does not appear to be a cause of ulcers, alcohol abuse can interfere with ulcer healing.
  • The role of psychological stress in the formation of ulcers is highly debated. While there is some evidence that psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression may contribute to the development of ulcers, impaired healing, and increased recurrence, the exact relationship is not yet fully understood.
    This is due to the complexity of the issue, as there are many other variables that must be considered, such as the presence or absence of H. pylori, the use of NSAIDs, and individual characteristics. Additionally, stress can be difficult to measure and study, making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions.
  • Certain other medications have been linked to peptic ulcers like:
    • Corticosteroids
    • Bisphosphonates
    • Potassium chloride
    • Fluorouracil

Why is it important to understand peptic ulcer disease?

Peptic ulcer disease can cause a lot of discomforts, such as stomach pain, nausea, and even more serious health problems if left untreated. 

One of the most serious complications of peptic ulcers is internal bleeding, which can cause dark or bloody stools and can lead to anemia if severe enough. 

Another dangerous complication is perforation, which occurs when the ulcer gets so deep that it creates a hole in the stomach or intestine, leading to infection or even sepsis

That is why it is so important to detect peptic ulcer disease early. 

If you experience any symptoms, such as stomach pain or nausea, you should tell your healthcare provider right away. Early detection can help you get the treatment you need to avoid these serious complications. 

How is a peptic ulcer diagnosed?

Peptic ulcer disease can be dangerous if not detected and treated early. Doctors can diagnose peptic ulcers using multiple methods.

Some of the common tests that will be run to see if you have a peptic ulcer (or whatever other gastrointestinal problem is causing your symptoms) can include:

  • Blood tests
  • Endoscopy
  • Imaging tests

Peptic Ulcer Treatments

While some peptic ulcers can heal on their own without treatment, many people with ulcers require treatment to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.

 Treatment options may include:

  • Medications to reduce stomach acid
  • Antibiotics to fight infection
  • Lifestyle changes such as avoiding certain foods and drinks that can irritate the ulcer
  • Endoscopic treatment may be necessary to repair the ulcer

With the right treatment, most people with peptic ulcers can recover fully and resume normal activities.

What to do about a peptic ulcer?

Go see your doctor. Peptic ulcers aren’t something to ignore and getting care immediately is so important for your recovery and prognosis. Treating peptic ulcers at home is not in your best interest and working with your personal care provider will ensure you experience no further complications. 

Sometimes going to your doctor for help is the best way to take your healthcare into your own hands — and that is especially the case when it comes to peptic ulcers.