Peptic Ulcer Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Peptic ulcer disease was thought to be caused by an excess secretion of stomach acid and the enzyme pepsin. However, research has now shown that ulcers are caused by bacteria called helicobacter pylori (HEEL-ih-ko-bak-ter pie-LOR-eye). It is estimated up to eighty percent of all ulcers are caused by this bacteria. It is believed the bacteria can be spread in the close contact of family members causing a familial like spreading of the disease but it is not felt to be genetic. The other cause of stomach ulcers is over use of NSAIDS or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprophen and naproxen. It is estimated up to ten percent of people in the United States suffer from this chronic inflammatory disease of the stomach and small bowel.  Peptic ulcer disease is more common in people over 50, heavy drinkers, caffeine users, and in smokers but can happen at any age and in people who have none of these habits. Even children can have the disease. Stress is felt to play a role in peptic ulcer disease but its unclear how stress interacts with the body to induce peptic ulcer symptoms.

Symptoms of peptic ulcer disease may include upper abdominal pain that radiates to the back, bloating, nausea and vomiting especially after eating, and weight loss. More seriously, red or black stools can indicate bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract and frank vomiting of blood may also occur. This can be a serious condition leading to the need for surgery if bleeding can’t be stopped. Some people with peptic ulcer disease never experience symptoms.

Diagnosis is of peptic ulcer disease is based on physical exam and history. Your doctor may want to do a
special test called and EGD. This involves passing a tube down the esophagus into the stomach to look around and possibly take specimens.

Peptic ulcer disease can be difficult to treat because the Helicobacter pylori bacteria invades the interface of the lining of the stomach and small intestine and generally requires more than one antibiotic to be effectively treated. Most researchers feel a three antibiotic approach has the best possibility of success. Unfortunately, this treatment often has unpleasant side effects such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and the course of treatment is four to six weeks which can make compliance with completion of the antibiotics a problem. Helicobacter pylori will continue to infect a person for life unless appropriate treatment to eradicate the bacteria is taken. Thus, the risk for development of new ulcers is always present even if an ulcer has apparently healed.

Peptic ulcer disease is a serious but treatable condition that will respond well to antibiotic treatment if the course prescribed is completed.


This article is meant to be informational only and is not medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about health concerns.