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More Than an Upset Stomach: Ulcers

More Than an Upset Stomach: Ulcers

What are stomach ulcers?
How do you get ulcers?
What are the symptoms of ulcers?
How can I find out if I have ulcers?
How do you treat ulcers?

What are stomach ulcers?
Believe it or not, lots of kids and teens get ulcers. Peptic ulcers, sometimes called stomach ulcers, are small sores in the lining of the stomach and duodenum (the tube that connects the stomach to the intestines). These sores can cause pain, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. If they are severe, ulcers can bleed and may even require surgery to fix them. back to top

How do you get ulcers?
No one knows exactly what causes peptic ulcers but there are a number of factors that seem to be involved. Stress, certain medications, an infection caused by helicobacter pyloribacteria, drinking alcohol, and smoking all seem to be related to ulcers. They can increase the amount of acid your stomach produces naturally to digest food.

Severe stress to the body can lead to ulcers. Sources of this type of stress include serious burns, surgery, and blood poisoning (sepsis). No one is sure if everyday stresses, or anxiety disorders, contribute to peptic ulcers.

There are a number of medications that can cause ulcers including aspirin and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as AdvilTM, MotrinTM, and AleveTM. Alcohol and tobacco seem to act in a similar fashion.

Many people who have peptic ulcers also have Helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori) infection. But no one knows if the bacteria causes ulcers or is merely associated with them. back to top

What are the symptoms of ulcers?
The most common symptom of peptic ulcers is pain. The pain can be sharp, burning, or dull and is usually located in the upper abdomen (belly). Often the pain seems to shoot right through to your back. The pain usually lasts for about half an hour and may seem to get better if you take antacids or drink something bland, like milk. The symptoms tend to get worse over several weeks or months.

A bleeding ulcer usually causes severe pain in the belly. back to top

How can I find out if I have ulcers?
If you have abdominal pain that seems to get worse over time, see your health professional. She or he may want you to have a test called an endoscopy. This test is done while you are awake, but you receive medication to help you relax. During endoscopy a thin, flexible "scope" is passed down the throat into the stomach. The doctor examines your stomach and duodenum through the scope to see if there are any ulcers.

Sometimes health professionals use X-rays to diagnose ulcers, but they are used less often than endoscopy. back to top

How do you treat ulcers?
Ulcers are usually treated with prescription medications that reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces. Antacids that you buy at the drugstore can also be helpful. If you have an H. pylori infection, you will need to take an antibiotic drug. It is also important that you avoid aspirin and other medications that irritate the stomach. You should also not drink alcohol and you should try to quit smoking.

Most people who have ulcers feel better within a month or two after starting treatment. If you have had one ulcer, you are at risk for ulcers in the future. Ulcers can come back months or years later.

Bleeding ulcers can also be treated with medication if they are not bleeding very much. Surgery is needed in the case of heavy bleeding. A perforated ulcer (an ulcer that has worn through the full thickness of the stomach) must be treated with surgery to repair the hole and prevent stomach acid from leaking into the rest of the abdomen. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/4/2001
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