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Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(7):1013

See related article on peptic ulcer disease.

What is a peptic ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is a sore in your stomach or small intestine. It happens when the juices that help break down food damage the lining of your stomach or intestine. Ulcers usually affect people who are 25 to 64 years of age.

The two main causes are a germ called Helicobacter pylori (HP) and anti-inflammatory pain medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen (one brand: Motrin), and naproxen (one brand: Naprosyn). Steroids and medicines for osteoporosis also may cause ulcers.

How can I tell if I have a peptic ulcer?

You may feel bloated or full. Pain may start soon after you eat. Three to four hours after eating a meal, you may get pain or an empty feeling in your stomach that gets better after you eat again or take an over-the-counter antacid (such as Tums).

Other signs include belching, feeling sick or dizzy, vomiting, heartburn, and a bad taste in your throat. Some people have black stools from bleeding in the stomach or intestine.

Your doctor may give you a blood or stool test to see if you have anemia or HP infection. You may need an x-ray or an endoscopy (when the doctor looks inside your stomach with a tiny camera on a tube inserted through your mouth).

How are peptic ulcers treated?

Peptic ulcers are treated with medicine that stops your stomach from making acid. If you have HP infection, you will need to take antibiotics and acid-reducing tablets for one to two weeks.

If you smoke, quitting will help your ulcers heal and will help stop them from coming back. If you are taking a medicine that may cause ulcers, your doctor can suggest a different one.

You should start to feel better within a few days or weeks of starting the medicine. Some people need to take medicines for four to eight weeks or longer. Tell your doctor if you still have symptoms, you lose weight, the pain gets worse, you see blood in your vomit, or you have black, tarry stools.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

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