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What You Need to Know About Peptic Ulcers

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Updated June 08, 2011

Whether you suspect you have a peptic ulcer or you are newly diagnosed, you will want to know the symptoms, the causes, and the treatment of peptic ulcers.

Symptoms of Peptic Ulcers
Peptic ulcers can cause a variety of symptoms, and these vary from patient to patient. Some patients with ulcers have minimal, unusual, or even no symptoms at all. Others may have every symptom. This is why it is very important to consult your doctor if you have any concerns.

It is also important to consult with your doctor on the symptoms you are experiencing because these symptoms can occur as a result of other conditions. One example is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Causes of Peptic Ulcers
It is important to understand the causes of peptic ulcers. In the past, it was believed stress and diet caused peptic ulcers. Later, researchers stated stomach acids (hydrochloric acid and pepsin) contributed to the majority of ulcer formation. Today, however, research shows that most ulcers develop as a result of infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can also lead to the development of peptic ulcers. NSAIDS include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. Under normal conditions, the stomach has three defenses against digestive juices: Mucus that coats the stomach lining and shields it from stomach acid, the chemical bicarbonate that neutralizes stomach acid, and blood circulation to the stomach lining that aids in cell renewal and repair. NSAIDs hinder all of these protective mechanisms, and with the stomach's defenses down, digestive juices can damage the sensitive stomach lining and cause ulcers.

Diagnosing Peptic Ulcers
Since most peptic ulcers are caused by H. pylori, your doctor will most likely confirm the presence of this bacteria before doing other diagnostic tests.

Diagnostic tests tests for peptic ulcers can include doing an upper endoscopy or barium x-rays. Testing can also include blood, breath, and tissue testing.

Treating Peptic Ulcers
Treatment of peptic ulcers depends on the cause. If testing shows peptic ulcers are caused by an H. pylori, and standard treatment in these cases is a combination of drugs, including antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor. If NSAIDS are the cause of your ulcer, you should stop taking these remedies. During the healing process for an NSAID-induced ulcer, your doctor may recommend the use of antacids to neutralize the acid, and H2-blockers or proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid production. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle modifications, such as dietary changes, for your treatment.

Peptic Ulcer Surgery
Your doctor may recommend surgery as treatment for your peptic ulcer if other treatments do not work. The need for surgery is rare because in most cases, anti-ulcer medications heal the ulcers quickly and effectively. Surgery may be needed, however, in cases where an ulcer doesn't respond to treatment or complications occur.

Peptic Ulcer Complications
Though rare, complications from peptic ulcers can occur. These complications can include bleeding, perforation, and obstructions. You should also remember these ulcer warning signs and seek immediate medical care if any of them occur.

Children and Peptic Ulcers
Many people think ulcers are an "adult disease." However, childhood peptic ulcers can and do develop. Children develop both duodenal and stomach (gastric) ulcers, though gastric ulcers are more common in children. The ulcer's location will determine the treatment.

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