Peptic ulcers are eroded areas in the stomach (gastric ulcers) or first part of the intestine (duodenal ulcers). Ulcers occur in areas where the lining of the stomach or intestine is worn away and irritated, causing pain or bleeding.
Normally, a mucous coating protects the lining of the stomach and the intestine. This coating can be disrupted by a bacterial infection from Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or by irritating medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). When this mucous coat is disrupted, strong digestive juices can erode the lining underneath it. This causes the ulcer.
Lifestyle factors such as diet and stress were once thought to be responsible for causing ulcers. However, now we know that the vast majority of ulcers are due to H. pylori infection or NSAID use.
In addition to creating discomfort, ulcers are serious because they can cause:
Many more people are infected with H. pylori than ever develop an ulcer. Researchers are still trying to understand why some people infected with this kind of bacteria develop ulcers and others don’t. Researchers are also trying to learn how people become infected with H. pylori. It may be passed in food or water. It also seems to live in the saliva of infected people, allowing the bacteria to be passed through kissing, for example.
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Meurer LN, Bower DJ. Management of helicobacter pylori infection. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(7):1327-36.
Peptic ulcer disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated April 22, 2013. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Understanding peptic ulcer disease. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro..... Published April 23, 2010. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Last reviewed April 2013 by Daus Mahnke, MD; Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 4/29/2013