What is an ulcer?

Ulcers are sores in the lining of the stomach, small intestine, or esophagus that occur when the protective mucus lining the stomach is inflamed or damaged and, as a result, stops functioning effectively.

Most ulcers are caused by an infection from a bacteria germ called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or from using painkillers called NSAIDs. Ulcers are fairly common and can be treated with a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.

The three types of peptic ulcers are:

  • Gastric ulcers – Ulcers that develop inside the stomach
  • Esophageal ulcers – Ulcers that develop inside the esophagus
  • Duodenal ulcers – Ulcers that develop in the upper section of the small intestine, called the duodenum

How are ulcers diagnosed?

Dr. Cooley will look at your medical history and conduct a medical exam to understand what the pain feels like, where the pain is in the body, how often pain occurs, and the duration of the pain. After an initial consultation, lab studies, x-ray studies, or an endoscopy may be recommended.

Ulcers are often caused from an infection from a bacteria or germ called H. pylori bacteria (Helicobacter pylori). Blood tests, stool cultures, and urea breath tests are performed to see if you have a H. pylori infection.

  • Blood tests check for antibodies fighting the H. pylori infection
  • Stool test, also known as stool samples, will show if H. pylori are present in your body
  • Urea breath test is a simple, quick method of determining active H. pylori infection

Imaging tests include:

  • Upper gastrointestinal series or barium swallow to examine the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (upper part of the small intestine). You will swallow barium, a chalky fluid, which coats the organs so they can be seen on an X-ray.
  • Upper endoscopy or GED (esophagogastroduodenoscopy) examines the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum using a thin, flexible endoscope. This is the most accurate way to diagnose ulcers. It also allows for direct biopsy of ulcers when necessary. H. pylori can be diagnosed with tissue biopsy at the time of endoscopy.

What are the symptoms of ulcers?

Symptoms vary depending on the individual, but the most common symptom is a burning pain in the stomach between the breastbone and the navel (belly button). Pain intensifies during mealtimes or in the evening and can last from minutes to hours during a flareup.

Common symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dark, bloody, or black stool
  • Vomiting blood
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Severe burning pain in the upper abdomen

How are ulcers treated?

Treatment depends on the type of ulcer you have and the symptoms most prevalent in your case. You will work with Dr. Cooley to create a healthcare plan. Treatment includes lifestyle changes and medication and, in some serious cases, might involve surgery.

Lifestyle changes include:

  • Avoiding foods that cause symptoms to worsen. Problem foods are often high in fat or acidity.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking prevents ulcers from healing completely and often causes ulcers to come back once treatment is complete.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine.
  • Eliminate NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines), common mediations are aspirin and ibuprofen.

Medications include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antacids
  • H2-blockers (histamine receptor blockers)
  • Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs
  • Mucosal protective agents

Are ulcers serious?

Ulcers can cause serious problems if they are left undiagnosed and untreated. If ulcers are left untreated, individuals can experience serious medical problems, including:

  • Internal bleeding
  • Perforation or a hole in the wall of the stomach (duodenum)
  • Obstruction, or a narrowing or blockage, where the stomach joins the small intestine, preventing food from leaving the stomach and passing intestine

Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is not intended to take the place of your personal physician’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Discuss this information with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical condition.

This website is owned and managed by Brian Cooley, MD. Any information, offers, or instruction as written, inferred, or implied is the sole responsibility of Brian Cooley, MD, and does not warrant claim or representation, inherent, or implied of DHAT, its subsidiaries, or employees.