What Causes Ulcers
Factors that can increase your risk for ulcers include:
- Use of painkillers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn, and others), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, some types of Midol, and others), and many others available by prescription; even safety-coated aspirin and aspirin in powered form can frequently cause ulcers.
- Excess acid production from gastrinomas, tumors of the acid producing cells of the stomach that increases acid output (seen in Zollinger-Ellison syndrome)
- Excessive drinking of alcohol
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Serious illness
- Radiation treatment to the area
An ulcer may or may not have symptoms. When symptoms occur, they may include:
- A gnawing or burning pain in the middle or upper stomach between meals or at night
- Nausea or vomiting
In severe cases, symptoms can include:
- Dark or black stool (due to bleeding)
- Vomiting blood (that can look like “coffee-grounds”)
- Weight loss
- Severe pain in the mid to upper abdomen
How Are Ulcers Diagnosed?
Your doctor may suspect you have an ulcer just by talking with you about your symptoms. However, to confirm the diagnosis one of several tests should be taken. First, your doctor may ask you to take an acid-blocking medication, such as those used to treat heartburn, for a short period of time to see if symptoms improve.
If needed, your doctor may recommend a procedure called anupper endoscopy. It involves inserting a small, lighted tube (endoscope) through the throat and into the stomach to look for abnormalities. This procedure is usually given if you are having severe or recurring symptoms of ulcers.
How Are Ulcers Treated?
If not properly treated, ulcers can lead to serious health problems. There are several ways in which ulcers can be treated, including making lifestyle changes, taking medication, and/or undergoing surgery.
How Can I Prevent Ulcers?
To reduce the risk of developing ulcers:
- Don’t smoke.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Don’t overuse aspirin and/or NSAIDs.