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Peptic ulcers are erosions or open sores in the mucous lining of the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The term “peptic” distinguishes peptic ulcers from ulcerations that affect other parts of the body (e.g., diabetic leg ulcers).
Peptic ulcer should never be treated without proper diagnosis. They are usually caused by infection from Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). People with peptic ulcer due to infection should discuss conventional treatment directed toward eradicating the organism—various combinations of antibiotics, acid blockers, and bismuth—with a medical doctor. Ulcers can also be caused or aggravated by stress, alcohol, smoking, and dietary factors.
Peptic ulcers are occasionally painless. However, the most common symptom is a dull ache in the upper abdomen that usually occurs two to three hours after a meal; the ache is relieved by eating. Other common symptoms include weight loss, bloating, belching, and nausea. Untreated, peptic ulcers often bleed and may cause sharp burning pain in the area of the stomach or just below it.
Aspirin and related drugs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs),1 alcohol,2 coffee3 (including decaf),4 and tea5 can aggravate or interfere with the healing of peptic ulcers. Smoking is also known to slow ulcer healing.6 Whether or not an ulcer is caused by infection, people with peptic ulcer should avoid use of these substances.
Emotional stress has been shown to increase acid production in the stomach.7 The reported association between stress and peptic ulcer might be attributable to a stress-induced increase in gastric acidity.8, 9 During the air raids of London in World War II, British physicians observed an increase of more than 50% in the incidence of ruptured peptic ulcers.10, 11 More recently, an increased incidence of bleeding stomach ulcers was seen in survivors of the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in Japan.12 Whether stress reduction techniques or psychological counseling helps prevent ulcers or ulcer recurrence has not been adequately studied in medical trials.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.