The medical definition of an ulcer is “a break in skin or mucous membrane with loss of surface tissue, disintegration and necrosis of epithelial tissue, and often pus”. Basically, an ulcer is an open sore or wound. Ulcers can be internal or external. When a gastroenterologist refers to an ulcer, however, they are typically talking about a peptic ulcer.
What is a peptic ulcer?
Peptic ulcers are usually found in the stomach lining or duodenum (first part of the small intestine). They can also develop where the stomach meets the esophagus, although this is less common. In general, peptic ulcers are caused by acid, although the exact causes can vary.
What causes an ulcer?
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases notes three main causes of peptic ulcers.
- Long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and other NSAIDs)
- Bacterial infection (Helicobacter pylori)
- Cancerous and noncancerous tumors in the stomach, lower intestine, or pancreas
Ulcers can develop because of one, or a combination, of these things.
Peptic ulcer risk factors
While ulcers can affect anyone regardless of age or gender, there are certain factors that put people at a higher risk of developing ulcers.
Long-term use of NSAIDs can cause peptic ulcer disease. Those who take NSAIDs regularly are 3 times more likely to develop ulcers than those who do not take them regularly.
NSAID-induced ulcers are more likely to occur in women and people over 70. The longer you take NSAIDs, the higher your risk, and those who have had peptic ulcers before are at a higher risk.
What are the symptoms of a peptic ulcer?
The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is stomach pain. However, stomach pain can vary from person to person. It may feel like an upset stomach or it could be a burning pain in your abdomen.
If you experience persistent pain in your stomach or abdomen that goes away briefly after eating or taking antacids, you should contact a physician.
Other peptic ulcer symptoms include bloating, weight loss, vomiting, loss of appetite, or bleeding.
Bleeding caused by ulcers is especially dangerous. If you notice blood in your stool or vomit, contact a medical professional immediately. The longer you wait, the worse your ulcer will become, and the more dangerous the problem will be.
If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, call your doctor immediately.