Peptic ulcer disease develops when open sores, or ulcers, form in the stomach or initial section of the small intestine. A bacterial infection eats away the protective lining of the digestive tract, which causes many cases of peptic ulcer disease. People who often use pain killers are more prone to develop ulcers. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Jagan Mohan Reddy Bathalapalli, M.B.B.S M.S., MCH, General Surgery, Laparoscopy and Minimal Access Surgery, Apollo Spectra Hospitals, Kondapur-Hyderabad, to know about the symptoms, causes and treatment of peptic ulcer disease.
Types of peptic ulcers
Generally, peptic ulcers can be classified into two categories. While one is gastric ulcers, another is referred to as duodenal ulcers. In gastric ulcers, stomach ulcers develop on the stomach’s interior. However, in case of duodenal ulcers, they form on the interior of the first segment of the small intestine referred to as duodenum.
What causes peptic ulcers?
People usually believe that ulcers are caused by stress or intake of certain foods. However, experts have discovered no evidence to back up such beliefs. Instead, research has found two significant causes of ulcers:
1. Helicobacter pylori
It is a frequent gastrointestinal bacterial infection. About half of the world’s population has an H. pylori infection, often without any symptoms. Studies suggest that it can be passed from person to person, particularly during childhood. However, the presence of H. pylori has no harmful influence on most individuals. Only around 10% to 15% of persons infected with H. pylori develop ulcers.
2. Anti-inflammatory drugs
The use of NSAIDs, a class of pain relievers, is another important cause of peptic ulcer disease. NSAIDs might cause the mucus layer in the digestive system to wear away. Aspirin, Naproxen, Ibuprofen, and Prescription NSAIDs all can induce peptic ulcers. Not everyone who takes NSAIDs gets ulcers. The combination of NSAID usage with H. pylori infection is perhaps the most harmful. People who have H. pylori and routinely take NSAIDs are more likely to suffer mucus layer destruction, and the damage can be severe.
Peptic ulcer symptoms
The most frequent symptom of a peptic ulcer is abdominal pain that ranges from moderate to severe and spreads from the navel to the chest. In rare circumstances, the discomfort may keep the person awake at night. In the early stages, small peptic ulcers may not cause any symptoms. Other frequent symptoms of peptic ulcer include:
- Changes in appetite
- Red or black stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chest discomfort
Peptic Ulcer Disease treatment
If the ulcer is bleeding, the doctor may inject medicine into it during the endoscopic process. The doctor might use a clamp or cauterization (burning tissue) to seal it shut and halt the bleeding. Doctors typically treat ulcers using drugs such as:
1. Proton pump inhibitors (PPI): These medications lower acid, allowing the ulcer to heal.
2. Histamine receptor blockers (H2 blockers): These are a group of medications that also reduce the amount of acid produced by the cells present in the stomach lining.
3. Antibiotics: At times, the doctor may prescribe antibiotic drugs to treat H. pylori.
4. Protective drugs: Certain protective drugs work as a liquid bandage and wrap the ulcer in a protective layer avoiding additional damage from digestive acids and enzymes.
Most peptic ulcers heal with proper treatment. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes avoiding smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption, hand hygiene to avoid infections, and eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, may help prevent peptic ulcers.