The direct cause of peptic ulcers is the destruction of the gastric or intestinal mucosal lining of the stomach by hydrochloric acid, an acid normally present in the digestive juices of the stomach. Infection with the bacterium helicobacter pylori is thought to play an important role in causing both gastric and duodenal ulcers.
Ulcers affect millions of people in the United States every year. The pain associated with this condition is easily confused with heartburn, indigestion, and hunger so it is important to monitor your symptoms.
- Burning or gnawing pain in the stomach area lasting anywhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours.
- Unexplained weight loss
- Changes in appetite
- Dark blood in stools
- Vomiting of blood (severe symptom)
To detect an ulcer your physician will perform an endoscopy. If an ulcer is found a small tissue sample may be removed and sent to the lab for testing. Endoscopy is usually only recommended to older patients, or to patients who have experienced bleeding symptoms, recent weight loss, or difficulty eating. Testing for helicobacter pylori is normally done by a breathe test or a stool sample. A blood test is normally the first step if less severe symptoms are present.
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Treatment for peptic ulcers typically involves the use of antibiotics to kill the helicobacter pylori bacteria. Other medications that reduce the level of acid in the digestive system may also be prescribed to relieve pain and promote healing.