Peptic ulcers

Also Known As: Peptic ulcers, Stomach ulcers, Gastric ulcers, Peptic ulcer

A peptic ulcer, also known as PUD or peptic ulcer disease, is the most common ulcer of an area of the gastrointestinal tract that is usually acidic and thus extremely painful. It is defined as mucosal erosions equal to or greater than 0.5 cm. As many as 70–90% of such ulcers are associated with Helicobacter pylori, a spiral-shaped bacterium that lives in the acidic environment of the stomach; however, only 40% of those cases go to a doctor. Ulcers can also be caused or worsened by drugs such as aspirin, Plavix (clopidogrel), ibuprofen, and other NSAIDs.

Four times as many peptic ulcers arise in the duodenum—the first part of the small intestine, just after the stomach—as in the stomach itself. About 4% of stomach ulcers are caused by a malignant tumor, so multiple biopsies are needed to exclude cancer. Duodenal ulcers are generally benign.

Symptoms of a peptic ulcer can be

  • abdominal pain, classically epigastric with severity relating to mealtimes, after around three hours of taking a meal (duodenal ulcers are classically relieved by food, while gastric ulcers are exacerbated by it);
  • bloating and abdominal fullness;
  • waterbrash (rush of saliva after an episode of regurgitation to dilute the acid in esophagus - although this is more associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease);
  • nausea, and copious vomiting;
  • loss of appetite and weight loss;
  • hematemesis (vomiting of blood); this can occur due to bleeding directly from a gastric ulcer, or from damage to the esophagus from severe/continuing vomiting.
  • melena (tarry, foul-smelling feces due to oxidized iron from hemoglobin);
  • rarely, an ulcer can lead to a gastric or duodenal perforation, which leads to acute peritonitis. This is extremely painful and requires immediate surgery.

A history of heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and use of certain forms of medication can raise the suspicion for peptic ulcer. Medicines associated with peptic ulcer include NSAID (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) that inhibit cyclooxygenase, and most glucocorticoids (e.g. dexamethasone and prednisolone).

In patients over 45 with more than two weeks of the above symptoms, peptic ulcer is only found in pre-teen's and young adults, Rarely will you find peptic ulcer in a adult, the odds for peptic ulceration are high enough to warrant rapid investigation by esophagogastroduodenoscopy.

The timing of the symptoms in relation to the meal may differentiate between gastric and duodenal ulcers: A gastric ulcer would give epigastric pain during the meal, as gastric acid production is increased as food enters the stomach. Symptoms of duodenal ulcers would initially be relieved by a meal, as the pyloric sphincter closes to concentrate the stomach contents, therefore acid is not reaching the duodenum. Duodenal ulcer pain would manifest mostly 2–3 hours after the meal, when the stomach begins to release digested food and acid into the duodenum.

Also, the symptoms of peptic ulcers may vary with the location of the ulcer and the patient's age. Furthermore, typical ulcers tend to heal and recur and as a result the pain may occur for few days and weeks and then wane or disappear.[3] Usually, children and the elderly do not develop any symptoms unless complications have arisen.

Burning or gnawing feeling in the stomach area lasting between 30 minutes and 3 hours commonly accompanies ulcers. This pain can be misinterpreted as hunger, indigestion or heartburn. Pain is usually caused by the ulcer but it may be aggravated by the stomach acid when it comes into contact with the ulcerated area. The pain caused by peptic ulcers can be felt anywhere from the navel up to the sternum, it may last from few minutes to several hours and it may be worse when the stomach is empty. Also, sometimes the pain may flare at night and it can commonly be temporarily relieved by eating foods that buffer stomach acid or by taking anti-acid medication.[4] However, peptic ulcer disease symptoms may be different for every sufferer.[5]

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