What is Peptic Ulcer Disease?
Peptic ulcers are those that can form in the lining of the esophagus, stomach or duodenum. Formerly it was believed that excess stomach acid production was the only cause, but we now know that there are several other causes: Helicobactor Pylori infection and the use of anti-inflammatory medications. H. Pylori is a bacteria that is found in the stomach which can predispose the patient to ulcer formation. Anti-inflammatory medications (such as Advil, Aleve, Aspirin) can damage the lining of the stomach and intestine, thereby inhibiting the protective mechanisms of the GI tract. Still other factors involved in ulcer formation include stress, alcohol use and smoking.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Diagnosis of Peptic Ulcer Disease can first be done by conducting an Upper GI study. This involves drinking a Barium solution while an X-ray is done to image the esophagus, stomach and upper part of the small intestine.
The advantage of this test is that it is noninvasive and does not require sedation. However, the disadvantage is that it is imprecise, and in some instances an Upper Endoscopy will also be required if an abnormality is found. This second procedure involves passing a camera into the stomach, enabling the doctor to visually examine the lining of the upper GI tract. If an ulcer is seen, it can be treated, if necessary. Biopsies can also be done to assess for H. Pylori and to rule out cancer.
Peptic ulcers are no longer a condition that most people have to live with their entire lives.
Treatment cures most ulcers, and symptoms go away quickly. Different people have different symptoms, and some people have no symptoms at all.
The only way for you and your doctor to know for sure if you have an ulcer is to do an endoscopy and to test for H. pylori infection.
Prevention & Treatment
Treatment involves eliminating H. Pylori (if present), avoiding anti-inflammatory medications, minimizing smoking and alcohol, and following a bland diet until ulcer has resolved. Antacid medications are also extremely effective at treating ulcers within 4-6 weeks. Surgery is rarely needed as a last resort for severe ulcers, or for those that have resulted in complications such as perforation or severe bleeding.