Peptic Ulcers Can Be Cured
A peptic ulcer is a term used to describe an irritation or sore in the lining of the stomach (a gastric ulcer) or in the upper part of the small intestine, the duodenum (a duodenal ulcer). Left untreated, an ulcer can be a very serious problem.
Doctors once believed these ulcers were caused by excess stomach acid and were made worse by stress, caffeine and spicy foods. Research has shown, however, that most ulcers are caused by either a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or by long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Only rarely do other diseases, such as cancer, cause ulcers.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), H. pylori causes most all of the ulcers. The NIDDK estimates that about 20 percent of people under 40 years old and half of those over 60 years have it. But not everyone who has an infection will develop a peptic ulcer. H. pylori weakens the coating of mucus that protects the stomach and duodenum. The strong stomach acid that digests food can then get through to the sensitive lining of the stomach and duodenum. Both the acid and the bacteria irritate the lining and cause a sore, or ulcer. Most other ulcers are caused by NSAIDs.
Symptoms of an ulcer
The most common symptoms of a peptic ulcer are a burning pain in the region of your stomach that lasts from a few minutes to several hours, according to the American Gastroenterology Association. The pain usually occurs between meals or at night, times when your stomach is empty. You may notice blood in your stool.
It's important to get treatment for a peptic ulcer to stop its progression. If untreated, an ulcer can become perforated, meaning it has caused a hole through the lining of the stomach or duodenum. An ulcer can also cause bleeding or prevent food from passing from the stomach to the duodenum.
An H. pylori peptic ulcer is treated with a combination of medications. Antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria. Other medications reduce stomach acid; these are called H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors. Still others protect the lining of the stomach; these include over-the-counter medications such as bismuth subsalicylate and prescription drugs.
Peptic ulcers caused by NSAIDs may be treated by medications that suppress acid secretion and protect the lining. A person with this type of ulcer should stop taking NSAIDs.
Ulcers that don’t respond to medication may require surgery.