Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop on the inside lining of your esophagus, stomach and the upper portion of your small intestine. The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is abdominal pain.Peptic ulcers that occur on the inside of the stomach are called gastric ulcers. Peptic ulcers that occur inside the hollow tube (esophagus) where food travels from your throat to your stomach are called esophageal ulcers. Peptic ulcers that affect the inside of the upper portion of your small intestine (duodenum) are called duodenal ulcers.
It’s a myth that spicy foods or a stressful job can cause peptic ulcers. Bacterial infection or some medications — not stress or diet — cause most peptic ulcers.
The digestive tract is coated with a mucous layer that normally protects against acid. But if the amount of acid is increased or the amount of mucus is decreased, you could develop an ulcer. Causes include:
- A bacterium.A common cause of ulcers is the corkscrew-shaped bacterium Helicobacter pylori. H. pylori bacteria commonly live and multiply within the mucous layer that covers and protects tissues that line the stomach and small intestine. Often, H. pylori causes no problems. But sometimes it can disrupt the mucous layer and inflame the lining of your stomach or duodenum, producing an ulcer. It’s not clear how H. pylori spreads. It may be transmitted from person to person by close contact, such as kissing. People may also contract H. pylori through food and water.
- Regular use of pain relievers.Certain over-the-counter and prescription pain medications can irritate or inflame the lining of your stomach and small intestine. These medications include aspirin, ibuprofen and others. Peptic ulcers are more common in older adults who take pain medications frequently, such as might be common in people with osteoarthritis and bisphoisphonates for osteoporosis.
Pain is the most common symptom
Burning pain is the most common peptic ulcer symptom. The pain is caused by the ulcer and is aggravated by stomach acid coming in contact with the ulcerated area. The pain typically may:
- Be felt anywhere from your navel up to your breastbone
- Be worse when your stomach is empty
- Flare at night
- Often be temporarily relieved by eating certain foods that buffer stomach acid or by taking an acid-reducing medication
- Disappear and then return for a few days or weeks
Other signs and symptoms
Less often, ulcers may cause severe signs or symptoms such as:
- The vomiting of blood — which may appear red or black
- Dark blood in stools or stools that are black or tarry
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Appetite changes
Left untreated, peptic ulcers can result in:
- Internal bleeding.Bleeding can occur as slow blood loss that leads to anemia or as severe blood loss that may require hospitalization or a blood transfusion.
- Infection.Peptic ulcers can eat a hole through the wall of your stomach or small intestine, putting you at risk of serious infection of your abdominal cavity (peritonitis).
- Scar tissue.Peptic ulcers can also produce scar tissue that can block passage of food through the digestive tract, causing you to become full easily, to vomit and to lose weight.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You may find relief from the pain of a stomach ulcer if you:
- Choose a healthy diet.Choose a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Not eating vitamin-rich foods may make it difficult for your body to heal your ulcer.
- Consider switching pain relievers.If you use pain relievers regularly, ask your doctor whether acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may be an option for you.
- Control stress.Stress may worsen the signs and symptoms of a peptic ulcer. Examine your life to determine the sources of your stress and do what you can to address those causes. Some stress is unavoidable, but you can learn to cope with stress with exercise, spending time with friends or writing in a journal.
- Don’t smoke.Smoking may interfere with the protective lining of the stomach, making your stomach more susceptible to the development of an ulcer. Smoking also increases stomach acid.
- Limit or avoid alcohol.Excessive use of alcohol can irritate and erode the mucous lining in your stomach and intestines, causing inflammation and bleeding.
Diet & Peptic Ulcer
- Eat 5 to 6 small meals a day instead of 3 larger meals. It is important that you avoid overeating. Frequent, smaller meals will be more comfortable and easier on the stomach than two or three large meals a day.
- Eat a diet rich in fiber, especially from fruits and vegetables
- Rest and relax a few minutes before and after each meal, as well as remaining relaxed during meals.
- Eat slowly and chew you food well
- Avoid eating within 3 hours before bedtime
- Eat foods that are low fat
- Avoid foods that are fried
- Avoid foods that are spicy
- Cut down on the following foods:
- Decaffeinated coffee
- Cola drinks
- Carbonated beverages
- Citrus fruits
- Tomato-based products
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