Peptic ulcers come about when acid from the digestive tract erodes, or eats away at, the inner layer of the esophagus, stomach or small intestine. This constant wearing away of the inner digestive lining creates open sores that over time cause pain, nausea and other symptoms over time. Currently, about 1 in 10 Americans experiences gastric ulcers at some point in their lives. Depending on the location of the developing ulcer, whether in the esophagus, stomach, or upper portion of your small intestine, complications can arise over time.
Most ulcers heal and reoccur, but the constant wearing away can lead to these ulcers bleeding and eroding blood vessels, perforating the wall of the gastrointestinal tract, or pervading nearby organs like the liver or pancreas. This can lead to serious and life threatening consequences, highlighting the need for treatment of these peptic ulcers. Chronic ulcers have also been linked to gastric cancer, specifically stomach cancer, which kills up to one million people around the world each year.
There are three general categories of peptic ulcers. These are based off of the location of the ulcer and include:
- Esophageal ulcers: These occur in the esophagus, the hollow tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach also known as the food canal. These ulcers are commonly the result of medications.
- Gastric ulcers: these ulcers are those that occur on the inside of the stomach, and they are most commonly caused by bacteria type named Helicobacter pylori. They are the second most common type of peptic ulcer.
- Duodenal ulcers: these are ulcers that occur in the duodenum, or the inner lining of the upper portion of the small intestine. These are probably the most common of all the peptic ulcers.
The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is abdominal pain, as the gastric acid is creating an open sore in the lining of the intestinal tract. Although pain is the most common symptom, there are many others to pay close attention to that could be telling of a more serious problem.
Symptoms of an ulcer include:
· Abdominal Pain
· Increased indigestion
· Heavy abdomen
· Flu-like symptoms
· Loss of appetite
· Unexplained hunger
· Unexplained weight loss
There are many different causes of ulcers, but certain risk factors increase your chances or the likelihood of developing them. There is no single cause that the medical community has found, but certain things like bacterial infections, medications and extreme stress has been linked to the formation of peptic ulcers. As there are many variables that affect the development of ulcers in the gastrointestinal system, researchers have spent years trying to sift through fact and fiction. In the past, these ulcers have been attributed to spicy foods or a stressful job, but we now know that that is largely myth. Researchers attribute the formation of ulcers instead to an imbalance between digestive fluids in the stomach and duodenum.
Risk factors for ulcers include:
- Are over 50 years old
- Excess acid production from gastrinomas (tumor of the pancreas or duodenum)
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Use/overuse of aspirin and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen
- H. pylori bacterial infection
- Family history of ulcers
- Liver, kidney, or lung disease