Sores that can occur anywhere in the GI tract.

What is an ulcer?
Ulcers are sores that can occur anywhere in the GI tract. Ulcers that form in the stomach are called gastric ulcers. Ulcers that occur in the duodenum are called duodenal ulcers.

What causes ulcers?
Ulcers may be caused by a variety of factors including a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or other diseases.  Stress and spicy foods do not cause ulcers, but can make symptoms worse.

What are the symptoms of ulcers?
Ulcers can cause pain in the lower chest or mid-abdomen. Symptoms may be worse at night, after eating, or when the stomach is empty. Other symptoms may include black stools, unexplained weight loss and appetite changes. Some ulcers cause no pain. Symptoms can suggest ulcers, but may need an endoscopy to confirm the presence of an ulcer.

How are ulcers treated?
Treatment for true ulcers should be directed by your physician and usually requires prescription therapy.  Ulcers caused by H. pylori infections will also require antibiotic therapy to cure.

When to seek medical advice:
Over-the-counter antacids may relieve pain related to an ulcer, but you shouldn’t try to treat an ulcer without a doctor’s supervision. You should see a doctor if you have black, tarry (sticky) stools, pale skin color, or nausea. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded or vomit blood, see a physician immediately.