What is an ulcer?
An ulcer is an open sore on the skin or in a mucous membrane. Ulcers that form in the stomach are called peptic ulcers and ulcers that occur in the duodenum are called duodenal ulcers.
What causes ulcers?
Ulcers may be caused by a variety of factors including a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or other diseases. Neither stress nor spicy foods cause an ulcer, but they can make ulcers worse.
What are the symptoms of ulcers?
Ulcers can cause pain in the lower chest or mid-abdomen. Symptoms may be worse at night or when the stomach is empty. Other symptoms may include dark blood in stools, unexplained weight loss and appetite changes. Some ulcers are silent - they cause no discomfort. While ulcer-like symptoms may be present, the true diagnosis is made by endoscopy.
How are ulcers treated?
Treatment for true ulcers should be directed by your physician and usually requires prescription therapy. Ulcers caused by H pylori infections will also require antibiotic therapy to cure.
When to seek medical advice
Over-the-counter antacids may relieve pain related to an ulcer, but you shouldn't try to treat an ulcer without a doctor's supervision. You should see a doctor if you have black, tarry (sticky) stools, pale skin color, nausea. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded or vomit blood, see a physician immediately.