Peptic Ulcers – Types, Causes, Symptoms & Risk

Open and painful sores or ulcers develop inside your stomach lining or the first part of the duodenum (the small intestine). The condition is known as peptic ulcers.  This happens when the thick mucus layer that protects the lining of your stomach becomes thin, allowing stomach acid to damage the tissue. The damage could be due to many reasons including infections, excessive use of medicines, and unhealthy lifestyle factors.

Peptic ulcers are of two types:

Gastric ulcers: Ulcers that develop on the inside lining of the stomach are called gastric ulcers.

Duodenal ulcers: They develop on the inside of the duodenal lining – mostly in the upper portion of the duodenum.

What are the symptoms of peptic ulcers?

The common signs and symptoms of peptic ulcer include burning stomach pain, heartburn, intolerance to heavy foods – spicy, hot, and fatty foods, belching or bloating, nausea, and feeling of fullness.

The pain looks like burning. On empty stomach, pain becomes severe and also stomach acid makes the pain worse. Having certain foods and taking antacid medications can help reduce or relieve pain. However, the pain comes back again and becomes worse between meals and at night. Some people may not have any symptoms.

In rare cases, peptic ulcer symptoms can become severe and may include:

Nausea, Vomiting, or vomiting blood

Stools that are black, dark, or tarry

Breathing trouble

Changes in appetite

Weight loss

Feeling faint

What are the causes of peptic ulcers?

Taking pain relievers regularly

If you take pain relievers regularly, then you will be at risk of getting a peptic ulcer. NSAIDs and certain OTCs and prescription pain medications can inflame or irritate the lining of your stomach and small intestine and eventually may lead to peptic ulcer.

Steroids, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), low-dose aspirin, and anticoagulants can potentially damage the stomach lining leading to stomach ulcers.

Bacteria – H. Pylori

Usually, Helicobacter pylori don’t cause any damage to the stomach and small intestine. But in some cases, it can become infectious and cause inflammation of the stomach’s inner lining. Though it is unclear how the H. pylori infection spreads. Many people get infected through contaminated food and water.

What are the risk factors for peptic ulcers?

The unprecedented use of NSAIDs, pain relievers, anti-depressants, antacid medications and anticoagulants, and other prescription medicines can increase the risk of ulcers. Similarly, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, excessive stress, and eating spicy and hot foods can also potentially increase the risk of peptic ulcers.

What happens if you don’t treat peptic ulcers?

Peptic ulcers can become severe over a period of time leading to internal bleeding. Slow loss of blood through internal bleeding can make you anemic. Bloody or black or tarry stools are one of the prominent symptoms of internal bleeding.

The risk of perforation of the stomach wall or small intestine increases with peptic ulcers. It will potentially put you at risk of serious infection of your abdominal cavity (peritonitis).

When peptic ulcers become severe, they block the passage of food through the digestive tract. When this happens, you will feel full easily after meals, feel nauseated or vomit. You may start to lose weight if this condition prevails.

The risk of Gastric Cancer

According to some studies, people who are infected with H. Pylori which leads to peptic ulcers, are at increased risk of gastric cancer.

Bottom Line

Many people don’t experience any symptoms. Some people may experience mild to moderate symptoms and therefore, take medicines or OTC drugs. If your symptoms return after taking pain relievers, acid blockers, or antacids, you should see your gastroenterologist. And also, when your symptoms become severe, you must seek immediate medical care.

To be continued…

In the next article, we will discuss the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of peptic ulcers…

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