Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Digestive health centre

What is peptic ulcer disease?

Peptic ulcer disease is a term sometimes used for stomach ulcers. Ulcers from peptic ulcer disease can also affect the small intestine, called duodenal ulcers.

What causes ulcers?

Ulcers can be caused by:

  • Infection with a type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori(H pylori). This is responsible for about 80% of stomach ulcers and about 95% of duodenal ulcers.
  • Use of painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs), such as aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen and many others. Even coated aspirin can cause ulcers.
  • Very rarely, excess acid production from gastrinomas. These tumours of the acid-producing cells in the stomach - increase acid output - a phenomenon seen in Zollinger-Ellison syndrome

What are the symptoms of an ulcer?

An ulcer may or may not produce symptoms. When symptoms occur, they include:

In severe cases, symptoms can include:

How serious is an ulcer?

Although ulcers often heal on their own, you shouldn't ignore the warning signs. If not properly treated, ulcers can lead to serious health problems, including:

  • Bleeding
  • Perforation (a hole in the wall of the stomach)
  • Gastric outlet obstruction from swelling or scarring that blocks the passageway leading from the stomach to the small intestine.

Taking NSAIDs can cause any of the above without warning. The risk is of particular concern for the elderly and for people with a prior history of peptic ulcer disease.

Who is more likely to get ulcers?

You may be more likely to develop ulcers if you:

  • Are infected with the H pylori bacterium
  • Take NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Have a family history of ulcers
  • Have another illness, such as liver, kidney or lung disease
  • Drink alcohol regularly
  • Smoke
  • Are 50 or over

How are ulcers diagnosed?

Your doctor may suspect an ulcer diagnosis just by talking with you about your symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis, however, you will need to have one or more tests:

  • A urea breath test - your breath is tested for carbon dioxide after drinking a special solution containing a chemical that is digested by H pylori
  • A stool antigen test - to look for H pylori excreted in faeces
  • A blood test to look for antibodies to H pylori
  • An upper endoscopy. This involves inserting a small, illuminated tube (endoscope) through the throat and into the stomach and duodenum to look for abnormalities. A biopsy of a suspected ulcer site or other abnormal area may be taken at the same time, and the tissue sample can also be tested for H pylori.

WebMD Medical Reference

Mind, body & soul newsletter

Looking after your
health and wellbeing.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

How to help headache pain
man in mirror
How smoking affects your looks & life
boost your metabolism
Foods to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
man holding sore neck
Could you have a hormone imbalance?
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
woman holding mouth
Common mouth problems
couple makigh salad
Nutrition for over 50s
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning and organising tips
adult man contemplating
When illness makes it hard to eat
Allergy myths and facts
egg in cup
Surprising things that can harm your liver