What are peptic ulcers?

A peptic ulcer is a sore on the lining of the stomach (gastric ulcer) or duodenum, the beginning of the small intestine (duodenal ulcer). Less commonly, a peptic ulcer may develop just above the stomach in the oesophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach (oesophageal ulcer).

Common types of peptic ulcers

The two most common causes of peptic ulcers are an infection by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (e.g. aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen). Rarely, cancerous or non-cancerous tumours in the stomach, duodenum, or pancreas cause ulcers.

Symptoms of peptic ulcers

A common symptom of a peptic ulcer is dull or burning abdominal discomfort (upper abdomen/lower chest). This discomfort usually occurs when the stomach is empty (between meals or during the night) and may be briefly relieved by taking food or antacids, says Dr Chuah Sai Wei, Consultant, Department of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Burping
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Poor appetite

Some people experience only mild symptoms or none at all. However, some may have the following emergency symptoms and should seek medical help immediately:

  • Sharp, sudden, persistent, and severe stomach pain
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Bloody vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds

These symptoms could be signs of a serious problem, such as:

  • Bleeding – when acid or the peptic ulcer breaks a blood vessel
  • Perforation – when the peptic ulcer burrows completely through the stomach or duodenal wall
  • Obstruction – when the peptic ulcer blocks the path of food trying to leave the stomach

Read on to know what are the risk factors for peptic ulcers and what is the link with NSAIDs.


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