What is a Peptic Ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is an open sore or hole that develops inside the lining of the stomach, esophagus, and the upper part of the small intestine (also known as the duodenum). It may be caused by a bacterial infection such as H. pylori, stomach acids, or even from taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. A peptic ulcer may also be known as a duodenal ulcer, a gastric ulcer, or a stomach (gastric) ulcer. It is estimated that about 1 in every 50 people in the United States have peptic ulcers. 


There are three types of peptic ulcers: duodenal ulcers, esophageal ulcers, and stomach (gastric) ulcers. Duodenal ulcers occur on the inside of the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum). Esophageal ulcers occur inside the esophagus. Stomach or gastric ulcers occur on the inside of the stomach. 

The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is pain. Specifically, the pain that is associated with a peptic ulcer will feel like a burning pain. The burning pain that is felt with a peptic ulcer is a result of the ulcer being irritated by the stomach acid that is produced. The pain may be felt anywhere from your lower stomach up to your chest. It may be worse when your stomach is empty. The pain may flare up at night time. Sometimes, the pain may be relieved by eating certain foods that coat the stomach acid by acting as a buffer. The pain may also be relieved by taking an acid-reducing medication. The pain associated with a peptic ulcer usually goes away and comes back in intervals lasting from a few days to a few weeks. Other signs and symptoms of a peptic ulcer that are more severe, but less common, may include vomiting blood (which may appear red or black), dark blood in stools or stools that are black or tarry, nausea or vomiting, unexplained weight loss, or abnormal changes in your appetite. 

There are certain risk factors that may increase your risk of developing a peptic ulcer. A person may be at an increased risk of developing a peptic ulcer if they are a smoker or if they drink alcohol. Smokers are especially at risk for developing a peptic ulcer if they have been infected with a bacterial infection called H. pylori. People who drink alcohol are more susceptible to the lining of their stomachs being irritated by the alcohol which increases the amount of stomach acid that is produced.