What are Stomach Ulcers?
According to the American Gastroenterological Association, peptic ulcer disease is a common stomach ailment found in 4 million people in the United States. This digestive condition occurs when a patient develops a sore in the lining of the digestive system. It happens when stomach acid eats through the lining of the digestive system. A duodenal ulcer is found in the lining of the first part of the small intestine while a gastric ulcer occurs in the lining of the stomach. Stomach ulcers develop less frequently than duodenal ulcers. There are common signs and symptoms of stomach ulcers which may signify a need for medical evaluation and treatment.
Causes of Peptic Ulcer Disease
Ulcers can occur at any age, even in infants and children. Middle-aged patients are most commonly affected. Ulcers are not related to stress or spicy foods, though they do seem to run in families. Cigarette smokers are also more likely to develop peptic ulcer disease.
Most ulcers are caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. This bacterium is found in half to nearly three-quarters of people with peptic ulcer disease.Patients infected with H. pylori can take antibiotics to eliminate the bacterium from their digestive tract.
Ulcers are also caused by the use of anti-inflammatory medications like NSAIDs and steroids. These include medications such as:
Patients who have an ulcer and are taking one of these medications can discuss alternatives with their pharmacist or prescriber.
Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers
Signs of disease are those things that can be seen by others while symptoms are experienced only by the patient. The most common symptom of stomach ulcer is a burning, gnawing pain in the abdomen, often in the midline and just under the ribcage. This pain often improves after eating, though some patients may notice the pain worsens. Antacids or fluid intake often decrease the pain. Other symptoms include:
- decreased appetite
Ulcers sometimes will cause some bleeding that may not be noticeable. Signs of bleeding ulcers include:
- blood in the stool
- vomiting blood that looks like coffee grounds
- anemia on lab tests
Stomach ulcers may have inconsistent symptoms and worsen with eating while duodenal ulcers occur with more consistency. People with duodenal ulcers often awaken with pain at night, but usually not in the morning. This is often relieved by eating but then comes back within three hours after a meal.
What to Do When Having Ulcer Symptoms
Ulcers can be treated with antibiotics to eliminate H.pylori and antacids to help decrease stomach acid so the ulcer can heal. Surgery is necessary only when the ulcer won’t heal, significant bleeding occurs or a hole or blockage develops in the stomach. Anyone experiencing signs and symptoms of ulcers should contact their healthcare provider immediately for evaluation.
Understanding Peptic Ulcer Disease. American Gastroenterological Association. Accessed October 17, 2010.
Peptic Ulcer Disease. The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. Accessed October 17, 2010.