Symptoms of Peptic Ulcer Complications

Ulcer warning signs

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Peptic ulcers can cause some discomfort, but they are rarely life-threatening. If, however, you display any of this warning signs, seek medical attention immediately. These symptoms could be a warning sign of complications that can occur with peptic ulcers.

  • Vomiting blood.
  • Vomiting food eaten hours or days before.
  • Difficultly swallowing
  • Nausea
  • Black or tar-like stools (indication that there is blood in the stools)
  • Sudden, severe pain in the abdominal area
  • Pain that radiates to the back
  • Pain that doesn't go away when you take medication
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Unusual weakness, usually because of anemia

These symptoms could mean complications such as perforation, bleeding, and obstructions have occurred. They may require surgical intervention.

Perforation is a hole in the wall of your stomach or small intestinal. A perforated ulcer is a very serious condition where an untreated ulcer can burn through the wall of the stomach (or other areas of the gastrointestinal tract), allowing digestive juices and food to seep into the abdominal cavity.

Bleeding occurs if there is a broken blood vessel in the stomach or small intestine. An ulcer has eaten its way into a blood vessel. This will cause red or black blood in vomit or in your stool.

A blockage occurs when food is prevented from moving from your stomach into your duodenum.

Ulcers located at the end of the stomach, where the duodenum (start of the small intestine) is attached, can cause swelling and scarring, which can narrow or close the intestinal opening. Food is then prevented from leaving the stomach, resulting in vomiting the contents of the stomach.

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What Causes Peptic Ulcers?

Ulcers form when the protective lining of the stomach or duodenum (known as the mucosa and submucosa) becomes eroded.

Small ulcers may not cause any symptoms, but large ulcers can cause serious bleeding. Most ulcers occur in the first layer of the inner lining. If the ulcer erodes beyond that, a hole can open that goes all the way through the intestine, called a perforation of the intestinal lining. A perforation is a medical emergency.

Despite the popular belief that peptic ulcers are caused by spicy foods or stress, the reality is that most of the time, peptic ulcers are caused by infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H pylori). Most ulcers can be treated with medications, including antibiotics. But surgery may be needed in some cases.

Who Gets Peptic Ulcers?

About 20 million Americans develop at least one ulcer during their lifetime. Ulcers can develop at any age, but are rare among teenagers and even rarer in children. Duodenal ulcers usually occur for the first time between the ages of 30 and 50. Stomach ulcers are more likely to develop in people older than 60. While duodenal ulcers occur more frequently in men than women, stomach ulcers develop more frequently in women than men.

Related Resources

Sources:
"Common GI Problems: Volume 1." American College of Gastroenterology. 22 Aug 2007

"H. pylori and Peptic Ulcer." NIH Publication No. 05–4225 October 2004. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 22 Aug 2007

"What I need to know about Peptic Ulcers." NIH Publication No. 05–5042 October 2004. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 22 Aug 2007

William D. Chey, M.D., F.A.C.G., A.G.A.F., F.A.C.P., Benjamin C.Y. Wong, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.G., F.A.C.P., "American College of Gastroenterology Guideline on the Management of Helicobacter pylori Infection." doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2007.01393.x. American College of Gastroenterology. 22 Aug 2007

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