Your stomach lining is a remarkably resilient membrane pitted with openings much like that of a sponge. It allows gastric juices as toxic as car battery acid to begin the digestion process. Peptic ulcer disease occurs when stomach acid penetrates the stomach and/or duodenal lining and causes sores or erosions that may bleed, lead to anemia and/or cause abdominal pain.
An estimated four million Americans have peptic ulcer disease.
When a type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infects your stomach lining by living in or on it, it can cause an ulcer, or sore, in the stomach or duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. This ulcer can cause pain or bleeding.
Untreated, the ulcer can literally eat a hole in the stomach lining, requiring surgery. Chronic inflammation from an ulcer can cause swelling and scarring. Over time, this scarring may close (obstruct) the outlet of the stomach, preventing the passage of food and causing vomiting and weight loss. In severe cases, ulcer complications can lead to death.
Scientists have recently discovered that most duodenal ulcers are caused by infection, not spicy food or stress. Scientists do not know how the H. pylori bacteria are transmitted, but they know that the bacteria may be spread from person to person.
The second most common cause of ulcers is the use of pain medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include aspirin and ibuprofen. People often take NSAIDs to reduce pain and inflammation, often for arthritis. Frequent or longtime use of NSAIDs, especially among older persons, however, can increase a person’s risk of ulcer.