Peptic Ulcer Disease and H. pylori
A peptic ulcer is a sore on the inner lining of the stomach or duodenum—the first part of the small intestine. Less commonly, a peptic ulcer may develop just above the stomach in the esophagus—the organ that connects the mouth to the stomach.
What causes peptic ulcer disease?
Causes of peptic ulcer disease include
- an infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
- long-term of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- rarely, cancerous or noncancerous tumors in the stomach, duodenum, or pancreas
What are H. pylori?
H. pylori are spiral-shaped bacteria that can cause peptic ulcer disease by damaging the mucous coating that protects the lining of the stomach and duodenum. Once H. pylori have damaged the mucous coating, powerful stomach acid can get through to the sensitive lining. Together, the stomach acid and H. pylori irritate the lining of the stomach or duodenum and cause a peptic ulcer.
What are the signs and symptoms of peptic ulcer disease?
A dull or burning pain in the stomach is the most common symptom of peptic ulcer disease. A person can feel this pain anywhere between the navel and the breastbone. The pain usually
- occurs when a person’s stomach is empty—such as between meals or during the night
- lessens briefly after eating food or taking antacids
- lasts for minutes to hours
- comes and goes for several days, weeks, or months
Other, less common symptoms include
- changes in appetite
- weight loss
How is peptic ulcer disease diagnosed?
A health care provider diagnoses peptic ulcer disease based on
- a medical history
- a physical exam
- lab tests
- upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy
- upper GI series
- computerized tomography (CT) scan
Taking a medical history may help a health care provider determine the cause of a peptic ulcer. If a patient has peptic ulcer disease symptoms, the health care provider will ask about the patient’s use of over-the-counter and prescription NSAIDs.
A physical exam may help the health care provider diagnose the cause of peptic ulcer disease. During a physical exam, a health care provider usually
- checks for abdominal bloating
- listens to sounds within the abdomen using a stethoscope
- taps on the abdomen checking for tenderness or pain
A health care provider will look to see if H. pylori are present using one of three simple tests:
- blood test
- urea breath test
- stool test
The breath test and stool test detect H. pylori more accurately than the blood test, so some health care providers prefer to use one of these two tests. Testing is important because health care providers treat H. pylori-induced peptic ulcer disease differently from peptic ulcer disease caused by NSAIDs.
Read more in Peptic Ulcer Disease and NSAIDs at www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov.
Blood test. A blood test involves drawing a sample of a patient’s blood at a health care provider’s office or a commercial facility and sending the sample to a lab for analysis. The blood test can show the presence of H. pylori.
Urea breath test. For a breath test, the patient swallows a special liquid that contains urea—a waste product the body produces as it breaks down protein. If H. pylori are present, the bacteria will convert the urea into carbon dioxide. A nurse or technician will take samples of a patient’s breath at a health care provider’s office or a commercial facility and send the samples to a lab to measure the level of carbon dioxide.
Stool test. A stool test is the analysis of a sample of stool. The health care provider will give the patient a container to take home for catching and storing the stool. The patient returns the sample to the health care provider or a commercial facility, and it is sent to a lab for analysis. Stool tests can show the presence of H. pylori.
If you have any questions or wish to schedule an appointment, please do not hesitate to call the office at (706) 548-0058. Remember that we usually require that you see a primary care physician (your family doctor or PCP) before we can schedule you. If you are having a medical emergency, get medical attention immediately at your nearest healthcare provider:
Athens Regional Medical Center: (706) 475-7000
St. Mary's Hospital: (706) 354-3000
This informational material is taken from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources.
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