Peptic ulcer is a sore on the tissue of the stomach or duodenal lining, the first layer of the small intestine.
The lining of the stomach and the duodenum has a protective layer of mucus, that protects the lining from the acid digestive juices. If this layer is damaged, the acid may cause inflammation and sores develop on the lining. These areas are called peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers can be: duodenal, gastric (in the stomach), and esophageal. Duodenal ulcers are more common than the ones in the stomach, usually developing at the age between 20 and 60. Stomach ulcers are more common over 50.
Many people with peptic ulcer do not feel any symptoms; instead, they think poor digestion causes the uncomfortable feeling. Symptoms can be persistent, though; here are some of them:
- Burning pain or uncomfort in the upper part of the stomach
- loss of appetite and weight
- nausea, and possible vomiting
Pains can last longer, and when they withdraw, they can return after months. Pain in the duodenum may get worse before meal because the stomach is empty. After taking the meal, the pain is relieved for a while, but it returns and it is more intensive.
The most common cause of a peptic ulcer is the Helicobacter pylori. It is believed that this bacterium is most easily transferred from person to person under non-hygienic conditions and that it excretes substances that reduce the effectiveness of the mucus. Then, the acid digestive juices can eat away the protective stomach lining, or the duodenal, and that is how peptic ulcers are formed.
Another cause of a peptic ulcer could be long use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (as ibuprofen or aspirin), which damage the stomach lining.
Other causes are smoking, alcohol. Some have family history, which points to the genetic factor.
The most common complication of a peptic ulcer is hemorrhaging, which occurs when the ulcer penetrates deeper in the tissue and pressures the surrounding blood vessels. Slight hemorrhaging may not show symptoms, except for the ones with anemia due to lower iron, such as paleness, fatigue and overall weakness. The internal bleeding can be seen from the black or tarry stool. In certain cases, the ulcer may break through all stomach layers or bowel (it perforates the layers), which causes severe pain, because all of the digestive juices are out in the stomach cavity. Hemorrhaging in the digestive tract and stomach or bowel perforation may be life-threatening and therefore medical intervention is required.
In rare cases, stomach ulcers occur if the exit opening of the stomach to the intestine is tightened, so that the stomach can not be completely emptied. In this case, the stomach after meal is swollen; vomiting is possible hours after the meal, or loss of weight.
Prevention from a peptic ulcer includes: protection from possible H. pylori infection, less use of pain relievers, reduction of alcohol intake and non-smoking.