Ulcers are sores or lesions found on the skin or within the mucous membranes of the body. Most ulcers occur in the gastrointestinal area and are known as peptic ulcers. These ulcers affect almost 5 million people each year. Peptic ulcers are found either in the stomach, known as gastric ulcers, or in the duodenum (part of the intestines), known as duodenal ulcers. Duodenal ulcers are the most common.
About 80% of ulcers are caused by a bacteria infection known as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). However, it is unknown how H. pylori enters the body. Life factors such as smoking, caffeine, alcohol, stress and extreme use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) can increase the risk of an ulcer.
The most common symptom of an ulcer is a gnawing or burning sensation in the abdomen. Other symptoms may include:
- Back pain
- Loss of appetite
People suffering from these symptoms should see their doctor right away determine if they are caused by an ulcer. Your doctor will perform a medical examination and then a series of tests to diagnose an ulcer. These tests include X-rays of the gastrointestinal series, an endoscopy, a series of H. pylori tests and a biopsy.
After an ulcer is diagnosed, it can usually be treated quickly and effectively. Treatment for an ulcer caused by an H. pylori infection usually includes antibiotic medication, acid suppressors and stomach protectors. Life changes can also help treat and prevent ulcers. Unresponsive ulcers can be the result of serious complications such as stomach cancer.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that involves inflammation and sores in the lining of the rectum and colon. These sores, known as ulcers, can flare up and cause painful symptoms and can lead to colon cancer.
The cause of ulcerative colitis is not known, but may be associated with immune system abnormalities. Stress and other environmental factors may trigger symptoms when the condition exists.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis occur in flare-ups that can be sudden and severe or begin gradually.
Common symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pains
Treatment for ulcerative colitis depends on the severity of the disease, but can include drug therapy to induce and maintain remission. Many people with ulcerative colitis eventually need their colons removed because of excessive bleeding and a high risk of cancer.