Peptic Ulcers: Types, Symptoms and Treatment
Published: 18 November 2019
Published: 18 November 2019
A peptic ulcer occurs in the lining of the stomach or on the upper section of the small intestine (duodenum). They are defined as:
(Mayo Clinic 2019; American College of Gastroenterology n.d.)
Normally, the lining of the stomach and intestines has defences against acid produced by the stomach. When something interferes with those defences the acid may cause damage. A peptic ulcer is a product of this damage; it is an open and inflamed sore.
While ulcers are common and treatable, it’s crucial that they are diagnosed early to avoid severe complications (MSD Manual 2019; Mayo Clinic 2019).
Ulcers vary in size, ranging from millimetres to centimetres. Peptic ulcers can be differentiated from erosions by the depth of penetration. Erosions are typically more superficial (Vakil 2018).
If left untreated, serious complications may occur.
(Healthdirect 2019; Queensland Government 2017; Vakil 2018)
Often peptic ulcers will not present with any symptoms. It is estimated that up to three-quarters of people do not experience symptoms (Mayo Clinic 2019).
If symptoms do occur, the most common of these is burning or gnawing pain in the upper abdomen. This pain can travel to the chest, neck, belly button or back (Healthdirect 2019). The pain often comes and goes in intervals (Vakil 2018).
Other less-common symptoms include:
Eating food may dull the symptoms of duodenal ulcers but will often worsen the symptoms of gastric ulcers (Vakil 2018).
Peptic ulcers can cause the following:
(MSD Manual 2019; Vakil 2018)
Peptic ulcers are common and can affect anyone of any age. However, they mostly occur in people over 60 and men are more commonly affected than women (NHS 2018).
Previously, stress, diet and smoking were thought to be the leading causes of stomach ulcers. It is now known that H. pylori bacteria is the main cause of ulcers (Queensland Government 2017).
H. pylori infection is present in 50 to 70% of patients with duodenal ulcers. In gastric ulcers, it accounts for 30 to 50% of patients (Vakil 2018).
If H. pylori has been removed, only 10% of patients experience a recurrence of peptic ulcers, compared with 70% recurrence in patients treated with acid suppression alone. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs account for less than 50% of peptic ulcers (Vakil 2018).
Smoking is still considered a risk factor for the development of ulcers and the complications they cause. Additionally, smoking is known to impede healing and increase the chance of a recurrence. For children with duodenal ulcers, in 50 to 60% of cases, there is a family history (Vakil 2018).
Treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers involves removing the cause, which may require:
(Queensland Government 2017; MSD Manual 2019; MacGill 2018)
A general practitioner may suggest an examination if a person has stomach pain characteristic of ulcers.
Tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis if:
An upper endoscopy is the method most commonly used to diagnose, during which, a biopsy looking for H. pylori bacterium or cancer will be taken. This combined with a patient history will form the diagnosis (Vakil 2018).
(Mayo Clinic 2019)
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