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All About Peptic Ulcers

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Updated June 14, 2014

Woman with stomach ache
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An ulcer is a sore or lesion that forms in the lining of the stomach or duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. Ulcers in the stomach are called gastric or stomach ulcers, and those in the duodenum are called duodenal ulcers. Both can be referred to as peptic ulcers.

What Causes Peptic Ulcers?

Ulcers form when the protective lining of the stomach or duodenum (known as the mucosa and submucosa) becomes eroded. Small ulcers may not cause any symptoms, but large ulcers can cause serious bleeding. Most ulcers occur in the first layer of the inner lining. If the ulcer erodes beyond that, a hole can open that goes all the way through the intestine, called a perforation of the intestinal lining. A perforation is a medical emergency.

Despite the popular belief that peptic ulcers are caused by spicy foods or stress, the reality is that most of the time, peptic ulcers are caused by infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H pylori). Most ulcers can be treated with medications, including antibiotics. But surgery may be needed in some cases.

Who Gets Peptic Ulcers?

About 20 million Americans develop at least one ulcer during their lifetime. Ulcers can develop at any age, but are rare among teenagers and even rarer in children. Duodenal ulcers usually occur for the first time between the ages of 30 and 50. Stomach ulcers are more likely to develop in people older than 60. While duodenal ulcers occur more frequently in men than women, stomach ulcers develop more frequently in women than men.

Are Peptic Ulcers Life Threatening?

Although ulcers may cause discomfort, they are rarely life threatening. By understanding the causes and symptoms of ulcers, and then getting a diagnosis and proper treatment, most people can find relief.


More on Peptic Ulcers

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Sources
"Common GI Problems: Volume 1." American College of Gastroenterology. 22 Aug 2007

"H. pylori and Peptic Ulcer." NIH Publication No. 05–4225 October 2004. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 22 Aug 2007

"What I need to know about Peptic Ulcers." NIH Publication No. 05–5042 October 2004. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 22 Aug 2007

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