Your stomach makes a lot of acid, which helps digest food. Normally, the lining of your stomach and intestines has defenses against the acid. If something interferes with those defenses, the acid can cause damage.
"Peptic" has to do with digestion. An ulcer is a sore. So a peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of your stomach or the first part of your small intestine (an area called the duodenum). Peptic ulcers in your stomach are called gastric ulcers. Ulcers in the first part of the small intestine are called duodenal ulcers.
Infection with bacteria called Helicobacter pylori or taking NSAIDs (pain medicine such as aspirin or ibuprofen) can damage your defenses against stomach acid
Stomach acid irritates the lining of your stomach or duodenum
You may have pain or discomfort at the top of your belly
Ulcers that go deeper may cause bleeding or a hole in your stomach
Doctors treat peptic ulcers with antibiotics to get rid of Helicobacter pylori infection and medicine to lower stomach acid
The 2 most common causes of peptic ulcers are:
People who smoke are more likely to develop a peptic ulcer. Also, their ulcers heal more slowly and are likely to come back.
Many people with a peptic ulcer have no symptoms. When they happen, the most common symptom is:
The pain usually comes and goes. Eating food usually makes duodenal ulcers feel better, but then the pain comes back in a few hours. Taking antacids also usually makes the pain better.
Other symptoms include:
Peptic ulcers can cause problems such as:
Helicobacter pylori infection that isn't treated puts you at greater risk for stomach cancer.
Your doctor may suspect an ulcer based on your symptoms and just start you on ulcer treatment. If you get better, they often don't do any tests.
However, doctors may do tests if:
The main test doctors do is:
Endoscopy (using a flexible viewing tube to look in your stomach)
During endoscopy, doctors usually take a biopsy (a sample of your tissue to look at under a microscope) to look for Helicobacter pylori bacteria or cancer.
Doctors treat ulcers with medicines, such as:
Doctors will also ask you to avoid:
If you have a bleeding ulcer, doctors do endoscopy to give treatments that make the bleeding stop. If you have a hole through the wall of your stomach or intestine, you'll need surgery.