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A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of the stomach, esophagus, or the first portion of the small intestine. Peptic ulcers may also be referred to as an ulcer. Ulcers are crater-like sores, generally one-fourth to three-fourths inch in diameter, but sometimes one to two inches in diameter. Ulcers that form in the lining of the stomach are called gastric ulcers. Ulcers that form just below the stomach at the beginning of the small intestine in the duodenum are called duodenal ulcers. Less common ulcers occur in the esophagus and are called esophageal ulcers.
A burning stomach pain is the most common symptom of an ulcer. The pain may come and go for a few days or weeks or may bother the individual more when the stomach is empty. The pain usually goes away after eating, but may return when the stomach becomes empty again.
Peptic ulcers occur when the digestive juices that help food digest damage the walls of the stomach or duodenum. The most common cause is infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori. Another cause is the long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®). Spicy foods do not cause ulcers, but can aggravate them and make them worse.
Peptic ulcers will become more severe if not treated. Treatment may include medicines to block stomach acids or antibiotics to kill ulcer-causing bacteria. Avoiding smoking and alcohol can help decrease symptoms of ulcers. Surgery may help for ulcers that do not heal. Peptic ulcers may also heal on their own without treatment.
Although ulcers may cause discomfort, they are rarely life threatening. By understanding the causes and symptoms of ulcers and getting a diagnosis and proper treatment, most people can find relief.
Individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are at an increased risk for developing ulcers. GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve separating the esophagus and stomach) does not close properly, allowing acid to back up into the esophagus.
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Peptic ulcers are sores on the stomach lining, the esophagus, or the small intestine. Digestive juices irritate these sores and cause a stomach ache that may disappear and reappear over time. The main causes of peptic ulcers are certain medications that weaken the lining of the stomach or intestine, or an infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Common treatments for peptic ulcers include antacids or antibiotics. Peptic ulcers can usually be treated, though if left unattended, they can cause a number of complications.