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Peptic Ulcers

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Peptic Ulcers

What is a peptic ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is an inflammation of the stomach lining or the duodenum (the small colon). The ulcer develops when the lining of the stomach or duodenum become corroded by stomach acid. Peptic ulcers are named according to where they are situated. An ulcer in the stomach is called a gastric ulcer, a duodenal ulcer occurs in the duodenum and an oesophageal ulcer is situated in the gullet.

What are the symptoms of peptic ulcers?

Peptic ulcers do not always exhibit symptoms, and some people can have an ulcer for a long time without knowing. They can often be quite painful, though, causing a burning or stabbing sensation at the point of inflammation. They are aggravated by smoking, drinking alcohol or fruit juices, and eating spicy foods. Other common symptoms of a peptic ulcer include:

  • Difficulty with swallowing food.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Vomiting blood or brown lumpy vomit.
  • Black or tar-like faeces.
  • Weight loss.
  • Paleness and fatigue, caused by anaemia.
  • Sudden, severe pains in the abdomen.

What causes peptic ulcers?

It has been discovered in recent years that most peptic ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection. This bacteria is called Helicobacter pylori.

Ulcers can also be caused by damage to the stomach lining inflicted by overuse of aspirin or by certain other prescription drugs, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS). These drugs are commonly prescribed for arthritis and rheumatism.

There are also some rare conditions that can cause peptic ulcers as a side effect. These include Crohn’s disease and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.

How can they be treated?

There are treatments for peptic ulcers, but people who have been diagnosed with ulcers can do a lot to help themselves by changing certain lifestyle habits.

  • Smoking and drinking alcohol increases the likelihood of an ulcer developing. Quitting smoking and limiting your drinking will lessen the pain of any ulcer you have and greatly lessen the chances of developing ulcers in future.
  • Limit your intake of spicy foods and condiments. Pepper, paprika, chillies, curries etc. will provoke dyspepsia in ulcer sufferers.
  • If you have been diagnosed with a peptic ulcer, or you suspect you may have one, get medical advice before taking aspirin.

Peptic ulcers are treated by prescription of a cocktail of medication including drugs that inhibit the production of acid and antibiotics that attack the Helicobacter pylori and prevent it from forming ulcers. If you suspect you have a peptic ulcer, consult your GP.

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