Skip to Content

Peptic Ulcer


What is a peptic ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is an open sore in the lining of your stomach, intestine, or esophagus. Peptic ulcers have different names, depending on their location. Gastric ulcers are peptic ulcers in the stomach. Duodenal ulcers are peptic ulcers in the small intestine. A peptic ulcer in the esophagus is called an esophageal ulcer. Peptic ulcers may be a short-term or long-term problem.

Digestive Tract

What causes a peptic ulcer?

Most peptic ulcers are caused by bacteria in the stomach called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Certain medicines such as NSAIDs may cause peptic ulcers. Zollinger-Ellison syndrome may increase your risk of a peptic ulcer because it increases acid in your stomach. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk for a peptic ulcer. Your risk is also increased if you have a family member who has a peptic ulcer.

What are the signs and symptoms of a peptic ulcer?

The most common symptom is a burning feeling or pain in your upper abdomen. This may occur 1 to 3 hours after you eat or when your stomach is empty. The pain may be worse at night and may come and go for weeks. The pain may be relieved when you eat or take antacid medicine. You may also have nausea, vomiting, or burping. Ulcers can cause bleeding. Your bowel movements may be red or black.

How is a peptic ulcer diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may be done to test for H. pylori.
  • A sample of your bowel movement may be sent to a lab for tests. The test can show if you have H. pylori or if there is blood in your bowel movements.
  • A urea breath test checks for H. pylori. You will drink a liquid that has a radioactive carbon. Thirty minutes after you drink the liquid, you will blow into a bag. The radioactive carbon will show if H. pylori is present.
  • An endoscopy uses a scope to see the inside of your digestive system. A scope is a long, flexible tube with a light on the end. A camera may be used with the scope to take pictures. During an endoscopy, your healthcare provider may find problems with how your digestive system is working. Samples may be taken from your digestive system and sent to a lab for tests.
  • An upper GI x-ray is a picture of your stomach and intestines. You may be given a chalky liquid to drink before the pictures are taken. This liquid helps your stomach and intestines show up better on the x-rays. An upper GI x-ray can show if you have an ulcer.

How is a peptic ulcer treated?

  • Medicines that decrease the amount of acid made by your stomach may be given. You may also need medicines that protect your stomach lining from acid and antibiotics to treat H. pylori infection.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatment does not heal your ulcer. Surgery on the nerves in your stomach may be done to help your stomach make less acid. Another type of surgery removes part of your stomach. Surgery may also be done to close an ulcer that has caused a perforation (tear) through your stomach or intestines.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have diarrhea or constipation.
  • Your stomach pain does not go away or gets worse after you take medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have a fast heartbeat, fast breathing, or are too dizzy or weak to stand up.
  • You have severe pain in your stomach.
  • Your vomit looks like coffee grounds or has blood in it.
  • Your bowel movements are bloody or black.
  • You have sudden shortness of breath.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2020 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.