Millions of Americans are affected by peptic ulcers at some point in their life. And if not treated, they can lead to serious complications.
The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is stomach pain.
Interestingly enough, nearly three-quarters of people with peptic ulcers don’t even have symptoms.
Approximately 500,000 new cases of peptic ulcer are reported each year. At any given time, as many as 5 million people are affected in the United States alone.
“Peptic ulcer is an open sore of the stomach or the duodenal. This is a very prevalent type of disease we have in our society, and it is caused usually by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori,” said Corpus Christi Medical Center Family Medicine Dr. George Benavidez.
Stomach ulcers can affect people of any age, including children, but they mostly occur in people 60 or over. Men are more commonly affected than women.
“An ulceration can cause multiple symptoms. First of all, it can cause nausea, vomiting, and if it becomes more severe, you can have vomiting blood, bloody stool, and the symptoms are basically pain, indigestion, and fatty food intolerance,” said Benavidez.
For many years, doctors had little idea what might trigger the problem.
“The myth of the ulcer is that eating spicy foods is going to give you an ulcer. That is just not true. Eating spicy food can aggravate the symptoms but won’t cause the problem. The other myth is stress and anxiety can cause the ulcer, probably not, probably not, but can make the symptoms worse,” said Benavidez.
With treatment, most stomach ulcers will heal within a month or two. The treatment recommended for you will depend on what caused the ulcer.
“The treatments that are usually used are antibiotics: tetracycline, amoxicillin, biaxin, those type of antibiotics. We use more than one because the H. pylori can be resistant to one or the other. And we use proton pump inhibitors such as protonix, nexium, and those type of products,” said Benavidez.
The most common causes of peptic ulcers are infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and long-term use of aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (Advil, Aleve, others).
Stress and spicy foods do not cause peptic ulcers. However, they can make your symptoms worse. The most common peptic ulcer symptom is burning stomach pain.
Nearly three-quarters of people with peptic ulcers don’t have symptoms.
- Burning stomach pain
- Feeling of fullness, bloating or belching
- Fatty food intolerance
Less often, ulcers may cause severe signs or symptoms such as:
- Vomiting or vomiting blood — which may appear red or black
- Dark blood in stools, or stools that are black or tarry
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling faint
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Appetite changes
Left untreated, peptic ulcers can result in:Internal bleeding, Obstructions and infections.
Treatment for peptic ulcers depends on the cause. Usually treatment will involve killing the H. pylori bacterium, if present, eliminating or reducing use of NSAIDs, if possible, and helping your ulcer to heal with medication.
Medications can include:
Antibiotic medications, medications to block or reduce acid, antacids,
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have the severe signs or symptoms . Also see your doctor if over-the-counter antacids and acid blockers relieve your pain but the pain returns.
If you have a serious complication from an ulcer, such as acute bleeding or a perforation, you may require surgery. However, surgery is needed far less often than previously because of the many effective medications now available.