Peptic ulcers are common and affect more than 4 million people each year in the United States. A peptic ulcer is a sore on the lining of the stomach or duodenum (the beginning of the small intestine). Less commonly, a peptic ulcer may develop just above the stomach in the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.
A peptic ulcer in the stomach is called a gastric ulcer. One that occurs in the duodenum is called a duodenal ulcer. People can have both gastric and duodenal ulcers at the same time. They also can develop peptic ulcers more than once in their lifetime.
Symptoms of peptic ulcer disease include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Nausea or vomiting
Risk factors for developing peptic ulcer disease include:
- Infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use, such as ibuprofen (and many others)
When to See a Doctor
If you have any symptoms you are concerned about or if your symptoms persist, it’s time to see a doctor. There are a number of treatments available to relieve the symptoms and promote the healing of ulcers. Effective treatment requires the expertise of a physician who has been trained in the diagnosis and management of peptic ulcer disease.
Treatment options for individuals with peptic ulcer disease vary and may include the following:
- Drug therapy, which may include antibiotics to eradicate H. pylori bacteria in the stomach and/or medications to decrease stomach acid.
- Lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation and discontinuing NSAID medications
- Surgery is required in those occasional cases where the ulcer will not heal with medical therapy
The foremost diagnostic "test" for any condition is a thorough exam and consultation with a physician, including a review of your individual and family history. In addition, your physician may recommend any of the following tests or procedures, which may provide further diagnostic value:
In some cases, standard diagnostic tests are not conclusive and additional testing may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis. These may include:
Avoid taking excessive doses of aspirin or NSAID medication. Peptic ulcers that result from other conditions may not be able to be prevented, but most heal with medication and lifestyle changes.
Learn more about peptic ulcer disease with resources from UpToDate