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Ulcer (dermatology), a discontinuity of the skin. Oral ulcer, an open sore inside the mouth Aphthous ulcer, a specific type of oral ulcer also known as a canker sore Peptic ulcer, a discontinuity of the gastrointestinal mucosa (stomach ulcer) Corneal ulcer, an inflammatory or infective condition of the cornea Venous ulcer, a wound thought to occur due to improper functioning of valves in the veins Genital ulcer, an ulcer located on the genital area A peptic ulcer, also known as ulcus pepticum, PUD or peptic ulcer disease, is an ulcer (defined as mucosal erosions equal to or greater than 0.5 cm) of an area of the gastrointestinal tract that is usually acidic and thus extremely painful. As many as 70-90% of ulcers are associated with Helicobacter pylori, a spiral-shaped bacterium that lives in the acidic environment of the stomach, however only 40% of those cases go to a doctor. Ulcers can also be caused or worsened by drugs such as aspirin and other NSAIDs.
Contrary to general belief, more peptic ulcers arise in the duodenum (first part of the small intestine, just after the stomach) rather than in the stomach. About 4% of stomach ulcers are caused by a malignant tumor, so multiple biopsies are needed to exclude cancer. Duodenal ulcers are generally benign.
- Stomach (called gastric ulcer)
- Duodenum (called duodenal ulcer)
- Oesophagus (called Oesophageal ulcer)
- Meckel’s Diverticulum (called Meckel’s Diverticulum ulcer)
abdominal pain, classically epigastric with severity relating to mealtimes, after around 3 hours of taking a meal (duodenal ulcers are classically relieved by food, while gastric ulcers are exacerbated by it); bloating and abdominal fullness; waterbrash (rush of saliva after an episode of regurgitation to dilute the acid in esophagus); nausea, and copious vomiting; loss of appetite and weight loss; hematemesis (vomiting of blood); this can occur due to bleeding directly from a gastric ulcer, or from damage to the esophagus from severe/continuing vomiting. melena (tarry, foul-smelling feces due to oxidized iron from hemoglobin); rarely, an ulcer can lead to a gastric or duodenal perforation, which leads to acute peritonitis. This is extremely painful and requires immediate surgery.
A history of heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and use of certain forms of medication can raise the suspicion for peptic ulcer. Medicines associated with peptic ulcer include NSAID (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) that inhibit cyclooxygenase, and most glucocorticoids (e.g.dexamethasone and prednisolone).
In patients over 45 with more than two weeks of the above symptoms, the odds for peptic ulceration are high enough to warrant rapid investigation by EGD (see below).
The timing of the symptoms in relation to the meal may differentiate between gastric and duodenal ulcers: A gastric ulcer would give epigastric pain during the meal, as gastric acid is secreted, or after the meal, as the alkaline duodenal contents reflux into the stomach. Symptoms of duodenal ulcers would manifest mostly before the meal-when acid (production stimulated by hunger) is passed into the duodenum. However, this is not a reliable sign in clinical practice.
Gastrointestinal bleeding is the most common complication. Sudden large bleeding can be life-threatening. It occurs when the ulcer erodes one of the blood vessels.
Perforation (a hole in the wall) often leads to catastrophic consequences. Erosion of the gastro-intestinal wall by the ulcer leads to spillage of stomach or intestinal content into the abdominal cavity. Perforation at the anterior surface of the stomach leads to acute peritonitis, initially chemical and later bacterial peritonitis. The first sign is often sudden intense abdominal pain. Posterior wall perforation leads to pancreatitis; pain in this situation often radiates to the back.
Penetration is when the ulcer continues into adjacent organs such as the liver and pancreas.Scarring and swelling due to ulcers causes narrowing in the duodenum and gastric outlet obstruction. Patient often presents with severe vomiting.
Cancer is included in the differential diagnosis (elucidated by biopsy), Helicobacter pylori as the etiological factor making it 3 to 6 times more likely to develop stomach cancer from the ulcer.
A major causative factor (60% of gastric and up to 90% of duodenal ulcers) is chronic inflammation due to Helicobacter pylori that colonizes the antral mucosa. The immune system is unable to clear the infection, despite the appearance of antibodies. Thus, the bacterium can cause a chronic active gastritis (type B gastritis), resulting in a defect in the regulation of gastrin production by that part of the stomach, and gastrin secretion can either be decreased (most cases) resulting in hypo- or achlorhydria or increased. Gastrin stimulates the production of gastric acid by parietal cells and, in H. pylori colonization responses that increase gastrin, the increase in acid can contribute to the erosion of the mucosa and therefore ulcer formation.
Another major cause is the use of NSAIDs (see above). The gastric mucosa protects itself from gastric acid with a layer of mucus, the secretion of which is stimulated by certain prostaglandins. NSAIDs block the function of cyclooxygenase1 (cox-1), which is essential for the production of these prostaglandins. COX-2 selective anti-inflammatories (such as celecoxib or the since withdrawn rofecoxib) preferentially inhibit cox-2, which is less essential in the gastric mucosa, and roughly halve the risk of NSAID-related gastric ulceration. As the prevalence of H. pylori-caused ulceration declines in the Western world due to increased medical treatment, a greater proportion of ulcers will be due to increasing NSAID use among individuals with pain syndromes as well as the growth of aging populations that develop arthritis.
Researchers also continue to look at stress as a possible cause, or at least complication, in the development of ulcers. There is debate as to whether psychological stress can influence the development of peptic ulcers. Burns and head trauma, however, can lead to physiologic stress ulcers, which are reported in many patients who are on mechanical ventilation.
An expert panel convened by the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research concluded that ulcers are not purely an infectious disease and that psychological factors do play a significant role. Researchers are examining how stress might promote H. pylori infection. For example, Helicobacter pylori thrives in an acidic environment, and stress has been demonstrated to cause the production of excess stomach acid. This was supported by a study on mice showing that both long-term water-immersion-restraint stress and H. pylori infection were independently associated with the development of peptic ulcers.