Causes and Risks of Ulcers
Peptic Ulcer Disease
Peptic ulcer disease can start when the protective barrier that lines the stomach or intestines is injured, exposing the underlying tissue to stomach acid. A variety of things can harm the protective lining of the stomach or intestines. Risk factors are characteristics that may increase your chance for developing a condition.
- Cause and Risk – Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, a spiral shaped type of bacteria, is present in more than 90% of patients who have intestinal ulcers and more than 80% of patients with stomach ulcers. H. pylori weakens the protective mucous coating of the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the * small intestine), which allows acid to get through to the sensitive lining beneath. Both the acid and the bacteria irritate the lining and cause a sore, or ulcer. H. pylori is able to survive in stomach acid because it secretes enzymes that neutralize the acid. This mechanism allows H. pylori to make its way to the “safe” area, the protective mucous lining. Once there, the bacterium’s spiral shape helps it burrow through the lining.
- Cause and Risk – Long term use of prescription or non prescription nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. NSAIDs lower the stomach’s resistance to the harmful effects of acid. Ulcers caused by NSAIDs often heal on their own after the medication is discontinued.
- Cause and Risk – Smoking – Smoking can not only increase the risk of developing an ulcer, it can also prolong the healing of existing ulcers and contribute to their reoccurrence.
- Cause and Risk – Physical Stress such as surgery or extreme injury. Emotional stress is no longer thought to be a cause of ulcers.
- Cause and Risk – Alcohol – The link between alcohol and ulcers is still vague, although ulcers are more common in patients with cirrhosis of the liver, a disease that has been linked to heavy alcohol consumption.
- Risk – You are 50 years old or older.
- Risk – You have family history of peptic ulcer disease.
Almost two thirds of all ulcers are caused by the H. pylori bacterium. Many of the other cases are caused by the use of NSAIDs. Only rarely do other diseases cause ulcers. None are caused by spicy food or stress. While stress and diet can irritate an ulcer, they do not cause it. Many people have H. pylori infections, but not everyone who has an infection will develop a peptic ulcer.
Ulcers can be cured with a one or two week course of antibiotics, even for people who have had ulcers for years. Your ulcer can be cured for good. Your doctor can test you for H. pylori infection.
For more information about Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection and ulcers, see your health care provider or call Toll Free 1-888-MY-ULCER.