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Peptic ulcer


Alternative Names:

Ulcer - peptic; Ulcer - duodenal; Ulcer - gastric; Duodenal ulcer; Gastric ulcer; Dyspepsia - ulcers

Symptoms:

Small ulcers may not cause any symptoms. Some ulcers can cause serious bleeding.

Abdominal pain is a common symptom, but it doesn't always occur. The pain can differ from person to person.

Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling of fullness -- unable to drink as much fluid
  • Hunger and an empty feeling in the stomach, often 1 - 3 hours after a meal
  • Mild nausea (vomiting may relieve this symptom)
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen
  • Upper abdominal pain that wakes you up at night

Other possible symptoms include:

Treatment:

Treatment involves a combination of medications to kill the H. pylori bacteria (if present), and reduce acid levels in the stomach. This strategy allows your ulcer to heal and reduces the chance it will come back.

Take all of your medications exactly as prescribed.

If you have a peptic ulcer with an H. pylori infection, the standard treatment uses different combinations of the following medications for 5 - 14 days:

  • Two different antibiotics to kill H. pylori, such as clarithromycin (Biaxin), amoxicillin, tetracycline, or metronidazole (Flagyl)
  • Proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), or esomeprazole (Nexium)
  • Bismuth (the main ingredient in Pepto-Bismol) may be added to help kill the bacteria

If you have an ulcer without an H. pylori infection, or one that is caused by taking aspirin or NSAIDs, your doctor will likely prescribe a proton pump inhibitor for 8 weeks.

You may also be prescribed this type of medicine if you must continue taking aspirin or NSAIDs for other health conditions.

Other medications that may be used for ulcer symptoms or disease are:

  • Misoprostol, a drug that may help prevent ulcers in people who take NSAIDs on a regular basis
  • Medications that protect the tissue lining (such as sucralfate)

If a peptic ulcer bleeds a lot, an EGD may be needed to stop the bleeding. Methods used to stop the bleeding include injecting medicine, or applying metal clips to the ulcer. Surgery may be needed if bleeding cannot be stopped with an EGD, or if the ulcer has caused a tear (perforation).

Expectations (prognosis):

Peptic ulcers tend to come back if untreated. If you follow your doctor's treatment instructions and take all of your medications as directed, the H. pylori infection will likely be cured and you'll be much less likely to get another ulcer.

Complications:
  • Bleeding inside the body (internal bleeding)
  • Gastric outlet obstruction
  • Inflammation of the tissue that lines the wall of the abdomen (peritonitis)
  • Perforation of the stomach and intestines
Calling your health care provider:

Seek urgent help if you:

  • Develop sudden, sharp abdominal pain
  • Have a rigid, hard abdomen that is tender to touch
  • Have symptoms of shock, such as fainting, excessive sweating, or confusion
  • Vomit blood or have blood in your stool (especially if it's maroon or dark, tarry black)

Call your doctor if:

  • You feel dizzy or lightheaded
  • You have ulcer symptoms
Prevention:

Avoid aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and other NSAIDs. Try acetaminophen instead. If you must take such medicines, talk to your doctor first. Your doctor may:

  • Test you for H. pylori first
  • Have you take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or an acid blocker
  • Have you take a drug called misoprostol

The following lifestyle changes may help prevent peptic ulcers:

  • Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
  • Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day.
References:

Chan FKL, Lau JYW. Peptic ulcer disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 53.

Chey WD, Wong BC. American College of Gastroenterology guideline on the management of Helicobacter pylori infection. Am J Gastroenterol. 2007;102:1808-1825.

Lanza FL, Chan FK, Quigley EM; Practice Parameters Committee of the American College of Gastroenterology. Guidelines for prevention of NSAID-related ulcer complications. Am J Gastroenterol. 2009;104:728-738.

McColl KEL. Helicobacter pylori infection. NEJM. 2010;362:1597-1604.


Review Date: 8/11/2011
Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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