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The main types of ulcers fall under the title "peptic ulcer." When the lining of the digestive tract is eaten away by stomach acid and other digestive juices, a hole called a peptic ulcer can form. A peptic ulcer causes abdominal pain, which differs from one ulcer to another.
Peptic ulcers are caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or from anti-inflammatory drugs, and the risk factors for a peptic ulcer include using pain relievers too often, smoking, drinking too much alcohol and undergoing severe stress. Left untreated, a peptic ulcer can lead to complications like internal bleeding and anemia, infection of the abdominal cavity (peritonitis), or production of scar tissue that can obstruct the digestive tract.
There are three types of peptic ulcers: gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcers, and esophageal ulcers. Each of these ulcers are named after the place in the body where they are found. Gastric ulcers are peptic ulcers that are found in the stomach, duodenal ulcers are peptic ulcers that are found in the duodenum (the first part of the small intestines), and esophageal ulcers are peptic ulcers that are found in the lower part of the esophagus. Duodenal ulcers are the most common ulcers in most Western countries.
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If a peptic ulcer is left untreated for a long period of time, it can lead to internal bleeding at the location of the ulcer, also called a "bleeding ulcer." This is the most critical of all the types of ulcers, and it can be extremely dangerous. Besides causing extreme pain, a bleeding ulcer can lead to severe symptoms, such as bloody vomit with a red or black color. If the blood is passed through the intestines, it can also cause the production of bloody stools.
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A peptic ulcer becomes known as a refractory ulcer when it has not yet healed after three full months of ulcer treatment. Refractory ulcers may result because the person who has the ulcers is not taking medication appropriately; is overusing tobacco, alcohol, or anti-inflammatory drugs; or has a strain of H. pylori that is resistant to antibiotics. It can also be the result of a more severe condition, however, such as stomach cancer, so check with your doctor if your ulcer takes more than a few months to heal.
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Stress ulcers usually occur in the stomach or duodenum, but they are not due to ordinary stresses. Instead, they are often the result of severe physical or emotional trauma due to accident, illness, or skin burns. They look like lesions, or lacerations, on the surface of the digestive tract.
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