An ulcer is a sore in the skin or mucous membranes of the mouth, stomach, or other parts of the body. When talking about ulcers, most people are referring to peptic ulcers, which are a very common type of ulcer that form in the lining of the stomach, esophagus, or small intestine. Ulcers are typically caused by infection with bacteria or inflammation, although they may also be caused by certain types of cancer or medications. Ulcers will get worse if not treated, so it is important to seek treatment when an ulcer is suspected. Most ulcers can be treated with certain medications and restriction of alcohol and tobacco.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The symptoms of an ulcer depend on the type. Peptic ulcers most commonly cause burning stomach pain, usually within a few hours of eating or when the stomach is empty. The pain may subside temporarily after eating. Ulcers can also cause low appetite, sharp stomach pains, nausea, burping, weight loss, vomiting, and abnormal bowel movements. If left untreated, ulcers can grow and cause internal bleeding or infection.

When someone suspects an ulcer, a doctor will usually test for bacteria with a blood, breath, or stool test. The doctor may also perform an endoscopy, which involves inserting a camera into the throat to look at the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine. If an ulcer is found, a tissue sample (biopsy) will be taken to test. An X-ray may also be done to detect an ulcer.


It is believed that the majority of ulcers are caused by infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), although most people infected with H. pylori do not develop ulcers. A combination of H. pylori bacteria and high levels of stomach acid may be the reason some people develop ulcers and others don’t. The bacteria may weaken the mucosal lining of the stomach, esophagus, or small intestine, allowing stomach acid to eat away at the tissue and cause sores. It is not understood completely how these bacteria spread. Another common cause of ulcers is excessive, long-term use of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Smoking and excessive alcohol use can also increase the risk of ulcers. If someone has a condition that weakens the immune system, the body may have difficulty fighting off an infection and can develop an ulcer when under stress. Contrary to popular belief, spicy foods and stress alone do not cause ulcers. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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