Peptic Ulcer Disease | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

Peptic Ulcer Disease

Overview and Facts about Peptic Ulcer Disease

Peptic ulcer disease is characterized by the presence of ulcers in the stomach and duodenum. Your stomach is located just below your esophagus and your duodenum is located just below your stomach. The duodenum is the first or uppermost portion of the small intestine. Peptic ulcer disease occurs when the lining of the duodenum and/or stomach is not protected from harmful substances, such as corrosive stomach acid. Peptic acid disease is more common in adults than in children.

Symptoms and Signs of Peptic Ulcer Disease

The most common symptom of peptic ulcer disease is burning stomach pain when the stomach is empty, such as between meals or at night. Depending on the severity of the disease, pain may last for a few minutes to several hours. Pain may also vary in frequency and duration and can last for a few days to several weeks. Pain severity increases as the level of damage to the stomach lining increases.

Other symptoms include:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Belching
  • Lack of appetite​
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Weight loss

Some severe symptoms include:

  • Bloody or dark stool and/or vomit
  • Sharp and persistent stomach pain
  • Trouble breathing

Causes and Risk Factors of Peptic Ulcer Disease

There are two common causes of peptic ulcer disease: prolonged use or overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and Helicobacter pylori infection. Prolonged use or overuse of NSAIDs can lead to a chemical imbalance in the duodenum and/or stomach, which increases the risk of stomach acid damage. A Helicobacter pylori infection in the stomach and/or duodenum can lead to peptic ulcer disease as well. The disease can occur when the infection causes direct damage to the stomach and duodenum lining, which also leads to the formation of ulcers.

A rare condition called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, which is characterized by the presence of tumors in the pancreas and duodenum, is also associated with an increased risk of peptic ulcer disease.

Lifestyle risk factors include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Eating foods that promote stomach inflammation or cause stomach irritation
  • Smoking

Tests and Diagnosis of Peptic Ulcer Disease

A doctor may assess your medical history and perform a physical exam. An endoscopy or x-ray may be performed to closely examine the inside of the stomach and duodenum. Helicobacter pylori infection can be diagnosed by testing the blood, breath or stool.

Treatment and Care for Peptic Ulcer Disease

In most cases, antacids can alleviate burning stomach pain. If Helicobacter pylori infection is present, then antibiotics are used to treat the infection. It is important to avoid any causes of the disease or factors that can make the disease worse. For example, individuals with peptic ulcer disease are encouraged to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.