March 01, 2011

Peptic ulcers

Stopping them for good

Peptic ulcers

Here you are again, up in the middle of the night with a gnawing stomach pain. You're not hungry, but eating a quick snack and taking an antacid seems to quiet the problem so that you can get back to sleep.

Still, you'll probably want to talk to your doctor. It's possible that you may have an ulcer in your stomach, (gastic ulcer), or in the uppermost part of your small intestine (duodenum).

Not long ago ulcers were considered a chronic condition that you had to live with. Today, most peptic ulcers can be cured within a matter of weeks. But an ulcer doesn't go away at the snap of a finger. Careful diagnosis and follow-through with an appropriate treatment plan are crucial — and you may need to work with your doctor to develop a plan for avoiding another.

Sore spot

As recently as 1980, it was thought that peptic ulcers were caused primarily by lifestyle factors such as too much stress or spicy food. It's now known that an infection in the lining of the stomach caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a common cause.

H. pylori causes peptic ulcers by damaging the acid-tolerant lining of the inner stomach or duodenum. This allows stomach acid to reach more-sensitive tissues underneath, leading to further damage and irritation. Infection is common among older adults in the United States, but most people infected with H. pylori never develop an ulcer. It's not entirely known why some develop...