What I need to know about Peptic Ulcers
What is a peptic ulcer?
A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of your stomach or
duodenum.* The duodenum is the first part of your small intestine.
If peptic ulcers are found in the stomach, they're called gastric
ulcers. If they're found in the duodenum, they're called duodenal
ulcers. You can have more than one ulcer.
*Many terms are defined in the glossary near the
bottom of the page.
Many people have peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers can be treated
successfully. Seeing your doctor is the first step.
What are the symptoms of peptic ulcers?
|A burning pain in the gut is the most common
A burning pain in the gut is the most common symptom. The
- feels like a dull ache
- comes and goes for a few days or weeks
- starts 2 to 3 hours after a meal
- comes in the middle of the night when your stomach is
- usually goes away after you eat
Other symptoms are
- losing weight
- not feeling like eating
- having pain while eating
- feeling sick to your stomach
Some people with peptic ulcers have mild symptoms. If you have
any of these symptoms, you may have a peptic ulcer and should see
What causes peptic ulcers?
Peptic ulcers are caused by
- bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, or H.
pylori for short
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin
- other diseases
anti-inflammatory drugs can cause peptic
Your body makes strong acids that digest food. A lining protects
the inside of your stomach and duodenum from these acids. If the
lining breaks down, the acids can damage the walls. Both H.
pylori and NSAIDs weaken the lining so acid can reach the
stomach or duodenal wall.
H. pylori causes almost two-thirds of all ulcers. Many
people have H. pylori infections. But not everyone who has an
infection will develop a peptic ulcer.
Most other ulcers are caused by NSAIDs. Only rarely do other
diseases cause ulcers.
Do stress or spicy foods cause peptic ulcers?
No, neither stress nor spicy foods cause ulcers. But they can
make ulcers worse. Drinking alcohol or smoking can make ulcers
What increases my risk of getting peptic ulcers?
You're more likely to develop a peptic ulcer if you
- have an H. pylori infection
- use NSAIDs often
- smoke cigarettes
- drink alcohol
- have relatives who have peptic ulcers
- are 50 years old or older
|Having relatives with peptic ulcers
puts you at risk of having them
Can peptic ulcers get worse?
Peptic ulcers will get worse if they aren't treated. Call your
doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms:
- sudden sharp pain that doesn't go away
- black or bloody stools
- bloody vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
|Call your doctor if the pain gets
These could be signs that
- the ulcer has gone through, or perforated, the stomach or
- the ulcer has broken a blood vessel
- the ulcer has stopped food from moving from the stomach into
These symptoms must be treated quickly. You may need
How can I find out whether I have peptic ulcers?
If you have symptoms, see your doctor. Your doctor may
|Peptic ulcers can show up on x
- take x rays of your stomach and duodenum, called an upper GI
series. You'll drink a liquid called barium to make your stomach
and duodenum show up clearly on the x rays.
- use a thin lighted tube with a tiny camera on the end to look
at the inside of your stomach and duodenum. This procedure is
called an endoscopy. You'll take some medicine to relax you so
your doctor can pass the thin tube through your mouth to your
stomach and duodenum. Your doctor may also remove a tiny piece of
your stomach to view under a microscope. This procedure is called
If you do have a peptic ulcer, your doctor may test your breath,
blood, or tissue to see whether bacteria caused the
How are peptic ulcers treated?
Peptic ulcers can be cured. Medicines for peptic ulcers are
- proton pump inhibitors or histamine receptor blockers to stop
your stomach from making acids
- antibiotics to kill the bacteria
Depending on your symptoms, you may take one or more of these
medicines for a few weeks. They'll stop the pain and help heal your
stomach or duodenum.
Ulcers take time to heal. Take your medicines even if the pain
goes away. If these medicines make you feel sick or dizzy, or cause
diarrhea or headaches, your doctor can change your medicines.
If NSAIDs caused your peptic ulcer, you'll need to stop taking
them. If you smoke, quit. Smoking slows healing of
Can I use antacids?
Yes. If you have a peptic ulcer, taking antacids will
- stop the acids from working and reduce the pain
- help ulcers heal
You can buy antacids at any grocery store or drugstore. But you
must take them several times a day. Also, antacids don't kill the
bacteria, so your ulcer could come back even if the pain goes
|Antacids can reduce pain and help
Can peptic ulcers come back?
Yes. If you stop taking your antibiotic too soon, not all the
bacteria will be gone and not all the sores will be healed. If you
still smoke or take NSAIDs, your ulcers may come
What happens if peptic ulcers don't heal? Will I need
In many cases, medicine heals ulcers. You may need surgery if
- don't heal
- keep coming back
- perforate, bleed, or obstruct the stomach or
- remove the ulcers
- reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes
What can I do to prevent peptic ulcers?
- Stop using NSAIDs. Talk with your doctor about other pain
What can I do to lower my risk of getting peptic ulcers?
- Don't smoke.
- Don't drink alcohol.
Barium (BAIR-ee-um): A chalky liquid used to coat the
inside of organs so that they will show up on an x ray.
Biopsy (BYE-op-see): Removing a small piece of tissue to
view under a microscope.
Duodenum (doo-AW-deh-num): The first part of your small
intestine, right after your stomach.
Endoscopy (en-DAH-skoh-pee): A test to look inside the
stomach and small intestine. The doctor uses a thin, flexible tube
that contains a light and a tiny video camera. This device is called
Helicobacter pylori (HELL-ih-koh-BAK-tur
py-LOH-ree): A bacterium that can damage stomach and duodenal
tissue, causing ulcers. It is known as H. pylori for
For More Information
You can get information about peptic ulcers from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1-888-MY-ULCER or
The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)
would like to thank the following individuals for assisting with
scientific and editorial review of this publication.
David A. Peura, M.D., University of Virginia
Steven J. Czinn, M.D., Case Western University
Thanks also to Anne Barker, R.N., B.S.N., at the Health Alliance,
Columbia, MD, for facilitating field-testing of this
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3570
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NIH Publication No. 05-5042