Peptic ulcer disease refers to painful sores in the stomach lining or the duodenum, which is the first portion of the small intestine. A dense layer of mucus typically covers the stomach lining. Ulcers occur when this mucosal layer is impaired and degraded.
Peptic ulcers are typically caused by a fluid imbalance in the stomach and small intestine. The bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) are the most common causes of peptic ulcers. Some risk factors include excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. Contrary to popular belief, stress and spicy foods do not cause ulcers, but they can exacerbate symptoms.
It is important to note that many people with peptic ulcers may not experience symptoms. For those that do, burning stomach pain is the most common peptic ulcer symptom. The discomfort is made worse by stomach acid, especially on an empty stomach. Some other common peptic ulcer symptoms include:
Less common signs or symptoms that may indicate severe ulcer damage include:
If you are experiencing common symptoms, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
After a typical physical exam and a thorough discussion about your medical history, your physician may recommend several diagnostic tests such as:
Treatment for peptic ulcers varies depending on the cause. If H. pylori bacteria are present, eliminating the bacteria through an antibiotic regimen is the primary treatment course. If consumption of certain medications is the cause, then reducing or stopping the use of said medications is the main course of treatment, given that doing so can be done safely. Once the underlying cause is treated, attention will turn toward healing the ulcer, which involves lifestyle and diet changes as well as an antacid regimen to reduce stomach acid production.
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