A stomach ulcer (also called a peptic ulcer) is a small erosion (hole) in the gastrointestinal tract. The most common type, duodenal, occurs in the first 12 inches of small intestine beyond the stomach. Ulcers that form in the stomach are called gastric ulcers. An ulcer is not contagious or cancerous. Duodenal ulcers are almost always benign, while stomach ulcers may become malignant.
Stomach ulcer disease is common, affecting millions of people yearly. The size of a stomach ulcer can range between 1/8 of an inch to 3/4 of an inch.
Children develop stomach ulcers too.
Stomach Ulcers may be a symptom of another disease or condition. Stomach ulcers are often common in mastocytosis. Bleeding from stomach ulcers may cause iron deficiency anemia.
What causes Stomach Ulcers?
The direct cause of peptic ulcers is the destruction of the gastric or intestinal mucosal lining of the stomach by hydrochloric acid, an acid normally present in the digestive juices of the stomach.
Infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori is thought to play an important role in causing both gastric and duodenal ulcers.
Helicobacter pylori may be transmitted from person to person through contaminated food and water. Antibiotics are the most effective treatment for Helicobacter pylori peptic ulcers.
Injury of the gastric mucosal lining, and weakening of the mucous defenses are also responsible for gastric ulcers. Excess secretion of hydrochloric acid, genetic predisposition, and psychological stress are important contributing factors in the formation and worsening of duodenal ulcers.
Another major cause of ulcers is the chronic use of anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin. Cigarette smoking is also an important cause of ulcer formation and ulcer treatment failure.
Stomach Ulcer symptoms
The major symptom of an ulcer is a burning or gnawing feeling in the stomach area that lasts between 30 minutes and 3 hours. This pain is often interpreted as heartburn, indigestion or hunger.
The pain usually occurs in the upper abdomen, but sometimes it may occur below the breastbone. In some individuals the pain occurs immediately after eating. In other individuals, the pain may not occur until hours after eating.
The pain frequently awakens the person at night. Weeks of pain may be followed by weeks of not having pain. Pain can be relieved by drinking milk, eating, resting, or taking antacids.
Appetite and weight loss are other symptoms.
Persons with duodenal ulcers may experience weight gain because the persons eats more to ease discomfort. Recurrent vomiting, black stool, blood in the stool and anemia are other symptoms.
What does a Stomach Ulcer affect?
The main thing that a stomach ulcer affects is the nerves surrounding it. The nerves become agitated and cause a great amount of pain.
However, stomach ulcers can cause hemorrhages from the erosion of a major blood vessel; a tear in the wall of the stomach or intestine, with resultant peritonitis; or obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract because of spasm or swelling in the area of the ulcer.
Risks of Developing a Stomach Ulcer
• Family history of ulcers
• Excess alcohol consumption
• Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
(aspirin) or corticosteroids.
• Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
• Improper diet, irregular or skipped meals
• Type O blood (for duodenal ulcers)
• Stress does not cause an ulcer, but may be
a contributing factor
• Chronic disorders such as liver disease, emphysema, rheumatoid arthritis may increase vulnerability