Peptic Ulcer – Causes, Symptoms and How To Prevent

What is Peptic Ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is an open sore that forms on the lining of your stomach, the lower part of your esophagus, and small intestine.

What are the causes of peptic ulcers?

The major causes of peptic ulcer include

  • An infection by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori causes irritation to the inner layer of the stomach, leading to an ulcer.
  • Prolonged use of painkillers like diclofenac and ibuprofen causes ulcers by inflaming the lining of your stomach or small intestine. These painkillers are commonly called Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol intake

What are the symptoms of peptic ulcers?

Some of the common symptoms of peptic ulcer include:

  • Sharp, intense stomach pain
  • Increased bloating & belching
  • Passage of bloody or dark stool
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn

Sometimes, you may not have any symptoms, even if you do have a peptic ulcer.

How is peptic ulcer diagnosed?

The definitive diagnosis for peptic ulcers is through an endoscopy. An endoscopy involves passing a flexible tube with a camera and light source through your throat to view your gastrointestinal tract and locate the ulcer.

The doctor may also order a blood, urea, breath, or stool test to see if you have a Helicobacter pylori infection, a major cause of the peptic ulcer.

How is peptic ulcer treated?

Your doctor will determine the course of treatment of peptic ulcers once tested and diagnosed.  Treatment may also depend on the cause of the ulcer. If it is caused by smoking or drinking alcohol, the first step in treatment is stopping the harmful habit.

Medications that help to reduce stomach acid may be prescribed and if testing reveals an H.pylori infection, you will be treated with a course of antibiotics. Read this on why you should get tested before accepting antibiotics.

What can happen if peptic ulcer is not treated?

If your ulcer is left untreated, it can lead to serious consequences such as:

  • Perforation: The sore caused by the ulcer may worsen till it forms a hole in your stomach. This development will cause severe abdominal pain and must be treated urgently.
  • Internal Bleeding: Sometimes, ulcers may extend to blood vessels and lead to you bleeding inside your body. Some signs of internal bleeding include the passage of bloody or dark stool.
  • Obstruction: The ulcer can block the movement of food if it forms scars in your digestive tract.

How can I prevent myself from having an ulcer?

  1. Do not take drugs with alcohol.
  2. Avoid taking painkillers (especially NSAIDs) for a prolonged period.
  3. Do not take alcohol excessively.
  4. Eat healthily and stop smoking.

By Dr. Okonkwor Oyor C.

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