Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Stomach, Duodenal Ulcers

Stomach and Duodenal Ulcers (Peptic Ulcers)

Illustration of the anatomy of the digestive system, adult
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What is a stomach or duodenal ulcer?

About one in 10 Americans develops at least one ulcer during his or her lifetime.

An ulcer is an open sore, or lesion, usually found on the skin or mucous membrane areas of the body.

What causes gastric and duodenal ulcers?

In the past, it was believed lifestyle factors such as stress and diet caused ulcers. Later, researchers determined that stomach acids--hydrochloric acid and pepsin--contributed to ulcer formation.

Today, research shows that most ulcers (80 percent of gastric ulcers and 90 percent of duodenal ulcers) develop as a result of infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).

It is believed that, although all three of these factors--lifestyle, acid and pepsin, and H. pylori--play a role in ulcer development, H. pylori is considered to be the primary cause, in most cases.

Factors in the development of peptic ulcers

Factors suspected of playing a role in the development of stomach or duodenal ulcers include:

What are the symptoms of gastric and duodenal ulcers?

The following are the most common symptoms of ulcers. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Although ulcers do not always cause symptoms, the most common ulcer symptom is a gnawing or burning pain in the abdomen between the breastbone and the navel. The pain often occurs between meals and in the early hours of the morning. It may last from a few minutes to a few hours. Less common ulcer symptoms may include:

The symptoms of stomach and duodenal ulcers may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What are some complications from ulcers?

People with ulcers may experience serious complications if they do not seek appropriate treatment. The most common problems include the following:

How are ulcers diagnosed?

Because protocols vary for different types of ulcers, it is important to diagnose the underlying cause of  ulcer disease properly before starting treatment. For example, for an NSAID-induced ulcer, treatment is quite different from the treatment for a person diagnosed with an ulcer caused by H. pylori.

A number of options are available for diagnosing ulcers, and for testing for the H. pylori bacterium. These diagnostic procedures include:

Treatment for stomach and duodenal ulcers

Specific treatment for stomach and duodenal ulcers will be determined by your doctor based on:

Treatment may include:

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