Peptic Ulcers

Signs & Symptoms   |    Causes   |    Treatment   |    Questions to Ask   |    Self-Care/Prevention

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A peptic ulcer is a sore in the stomach or first part of the small bowel.

Signs & Symptoms

Abdominal Pain

•  A gnawing or burning pain is felt in the abdomen between the breastbone and navel. The pain often occurs between meals and in the early hours of the morning. It may last from a few minutes to a few hours and may be relieved with eating or antacids.

•  Appetite and weight loss.

•  Nausea or vomiting dark, red blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.

•  Bloody, black, or tarry stools.

•  Paleness and weakness if anemia is present.

Illustration of a peptic ulcer.

Peptic Ulcers


•  An infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria. This is the main cause.

•  The repeated use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium.

A small percentage of peptic ulcers are caused by Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome. With this rare disorder, the body makes excess acid.


Family history, smoking, caffeine, and making excess digestive acids play a role in peptic ulcers. So does stress, especially some types of physical stress (e.g., severe burns and major surgery).


Treatment includes medicines to treat the problem and surgery, if needed.

Questions to Ask

Self-Care / Prevention

•  Take medications as prescribed.

•  Eat healthy foods. Include foods high in fiber.

•  Don’t have coffee (regular and decaffeinated); tea and soft drinks with caffeine; and fruit juices high in acid like tomato juice. Don’t have alcohol or foods that bother you.

•  Don’t use aspirin and other NSAIDs. Follow your doctor’s advice for prescribed NSAIDs.

•  Try over-the-counter antacids or acid controllers (with your doctor’s okay). Use them on a short-term basis. Don’t try to self- medicate an ulcer.

•  Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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