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What are ulcers?

Ulcers are sores along the lining of the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the ulcers are duodenal rather than gastric (in the stomach). People with ulcers have pain with meals, bloating and abdominal fullness. In severe cases, people can have bloody vomiting that looks like coffee grounds (called hematemesis) or black, tarry stools (called melena). If an ulcer perforates (or causes a tear in the stomach wall), it is a life threatening situation requiring emergent hospitalization and surgery.

Patients with gastric ulcers (ulcers in the stomach lining) develop pain after eating, while those with duodenal ulcers have pain which is relieved with food.

What causes ulcers?

The two most common causes of ulcers are medications and bacteria. In rare cases, cancerous tumors in the stomach or pancreas can cause ulcers.

The bacteria which causes almost all peptic ulcers is Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). More than half of the world’s population is infected with H. pylori, and most people with H. pylori do not have symptoms. But in sometimes these bacteria can cause inflammation at the stomach lining that leads to excess acid production and, eventually, to ulcers.

Various medications also break down the lining of the stomach and cause ulcers. People who are taking aspirin, NAIDS (like ibuprofen), blood thinners (like Plavix), or even long term steroids can develop ulcers or find that their ulcers are exacerbated.
Diagnosis and treatment for ulcers

At NYM, multiple modalities are used to diagnose and treat ulcers. After an examination and evaluation, you’re the gastroenterologist may perform an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) to look for ulcers and may perform a biopsy to find out whether H. pylori is the cause.
Medications to reduce the amount of acid secreted are used for treatment if there is no H. pylori infection. If H. pylori is present, then a combination of antibiotics and medications to reduce acid are given.

If there is bloody vomiting or a tear in the stomach lining, this is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention and hospitalization. Surgery is needed to correct these situations.

Find a physician who specializes in treatment of digestive disorders here or call 866 DIGEST-1.

To contact NYM’s Division of Gastroenterology, call 718.780.3851.

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