An ulcer is an open, painful sore that exists inside the stomach. There are different types of ulcers though a peptic ulcer is the most common. Peptic ulcers are very common, even with people who have no idea they have them. Peptic ulcers form in the upper part of the small intestine or the stomach and cause a variety of symptoms, often worsened by acidic or spicy foods. The following will provide you information about the causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for ulcers.
Causes of Ulcers
In the past, doctors and scientists believed ulcers were caused by spicy foods, alcohol, or high amounts of stress. And while these can be risk factors, they aren’t the sole cause of an ulcer. Peptic ulcers, the most common type of ulcer, is actually caused by a bacterial infection occurring in the stomach or upper intestine, by smoking, or by taking certain medications. The bacterial infection that causes many ulcers is called H. pylori which causes approximately 90% of all ulcers.
Symptoms of Ulcers
The most common symptom of an ulcer and one people will experience first is some sort of abdominal pain. It could be a variety of different severities or types of pain, but most people with ulcers feel a sharp ache between the belly button and breastbone. You may notice it occur a few hours after eating, especially if you ate something acidic or spicy. It is also common to feel the pain early in the morning or late at night, and when your stomach is empty. The pain might subside after taking an antacid. Additional signs and symptoms of ulcers include gas, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, or bloody or black bowel movements.
To diagnose an ulcer, your doctor will first need to perform a physical examination which also helps rule out other possible causes for your stomach pain. A variety of tests might be performed to determine whether or not you have an ulcer, including an upper gastrointestinal (upper GI) series. This will x-ray your stomach, esophagus, and duodenum. Another common test is an endoscopy that allows the doctor to use a small camera and look into your stomach and upper intestines. Often times, a blood test looks for the H. Pylori bacteria that causes ulcers.
Treatment of an ulcer usually involves a combination of medications. Two different antibiotics may be prescribed to get rid of the H. pylori bacteria, and will need to be taken for 2 weeks. Other medications include antacids, acid blockers, or proton pump inhibitors.