A peptic ulcer is a sore that develops on the lining of your stomach or the beginning of your small intestine. Depending on its exact location, it may be classified as a gastric or duodenal ulcer, but the general term for sores in this vicinity is peptic ulcer. They are more common than you might imagine, and everyday risk factors can increase your chance of developing one. Below, we take a closer look at why peptic ulcers develop and how we can help treat them.
Causes and Symptoms of Peptic Ulcers
Originally, the prevailing thought was that stress and poor diet played a significant role in your peptic ulcer risk. As our medical understanding improved, we learned that other causes were more likely to be behind your peptic ulcer development. Those factors include:
- Bacterial Infection – Most peptic ulcers are caused by an infection from the bacteria called H. pylori. This bacteria damages the mucus that lines and protects your stomach and duodenum. When stomach acid hits these areas where the lining has broken down, it can damage the area and an ulcer can develop.
- Damage From NSAIDs – Regular use of over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin can slowly damage the mucus that protects your stomach, putting you at a heightened risk for peptic ulcer development.
There has been evidence that psychological distress can worsen physical ailments like a peptic ulcer, but there is no clear evidence that stress or your diet can directly contribute to peptic ulcer development.
Symptoms of peptic ulcer onset vary depending on its size, location and severity, but many patients experience symptoms like:
- A burning sensation in your midsection
- Pain that intensifies around meal time
- Loss of appetite
- Bloody or blackened stool
As you can see, many of these symptoms are serious in nature, so if you are experiencing one of more symptoms and suspect you may have a stomach ulcer, contact your primary care physician or a specialist sooner rather than later.
Diagnosing and Treating Peptic Ulcers
If you believe you’re dealing with a peptic ulcer, it’s time to head to a gastroenterologist’s office. If you come to our clinic, Dr. Bhatti and his team will begin by reviewing your medical history and asking about your symptoms. From there, they may opt to conduct one of a few different tests to check for the presence of a peptic ulcer. Those tests may include an endoscopy to visualize the area with the help of a microcamera, a barium swallow to allow for x-ray imaging, or a blood or stool test to look for the presence of H. pylori bacteria.
If the tests confirm that you’re dealing with a peptic ulcer, your gastroenterologist will begin to cover your treatment options. For some patients, the only treatment they will need may include lifestyle changes like avoiding certain foods, quitting smoking, or limiting or eliminating alcohol, caffeine or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications from their regular routine.
Other patients may need more aggressive care in the form of medications like antibiotics to kill the H. pylori bacteria or histamine receptor blockers to limit the amount of stomach acid your body produces. Similar medications can help build up your mucus wall or reduce the intensity of stomach acid, and your doctor can explain which option is right for you. In many patients, these lifestyle changes and medications can remove the bacteria and allow the ulcer to permanently heal.
If medications and lifestyle changes don’t successfully treat the ulcer, or if you’re suffering serious complications from its presence, a surgical operation may be necessary. Depending on the situation, the site may be patched or part of the stomach may be removed to relieve symptoms. The need for an operation is rare, but Dr. Bhatti has successfully performed these operations in the past, and he can do the same for you should your condition progress to this point.
For more information about peptic ulcers, or to talk to a specialist about your symptoms, reach out to Dr. Bhatti and his team at Bhatti Gastroenterology today at (952) 368-3800.