What Is Peptic Ulcer Disease?

Stomach Ulcers

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Peptic ulcer disease is a condition that involves open sores that affect the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). These sores are located in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract is the path food and drinks take as they enter the body through the mouth, are digested, and then exit the body through the anus. When acid comes in contact with the lining of the GI tract, it can damage the tissue and cause open sores.

Various types of peptic ulcers are named by their location. For example, stomach (gastric) ulcers are a type of peptic ulcer located in the stomach, while duodenal ulcers occur at the start of the duodenum.

Learn about the symptoms, types, and treatments for peptic ulcer disease.

Seated man clutching his stomach in pain

Zay Nyi Nyi / Getty Images

What Are the Symptoms of Peptic Ulcers?

Peptic ulcers can cause pain and discomfort in the upper abdominal area, especially during or after eating or if too much time has passed without eating. Additional symptoms include:

However, some people experience no symptoms at all.

Types of Peptic Ulcers

The different types of peptic ulcers are determined by their location in the body.

Gastric Ulcers

"Gastric" is a word that means "related to the stomach." As the name suggests, gastric ulcers are located in the stomach. They can develop when the stomach acid used to digest food irritates the lining of the stomach until it creates an open sore.

Duodenal Ulcers

After food leaves the stomach and continues through the digestive tract, it enters the duodenum. This is the first part of the small intestine and continues the digestive process. When peptic ulcers occur in the duodenum lining, they are called duodenal ulcers.

Stomach Ulcers vs. GERD

Stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) are acid-related conditions and are often confused due to similar symptom presentation and treatment. Stomach ulcers can be caused by bacteria, certain medications, or substances, whereas GERD results from an issue with the muscle between the esophagus and stomach.

What Causes Peptic Ulcers?

There are various possible causes of peptic ulcers, including:

How to Diagnose Peptic Ulcers

At an office visit, a healthcare provider will take your medical history and evaluate your symptoms to diagnose a peptic ulcer. Depending on your symptoms and health history, they may also recommend a blood test, stool sample, or a test that uses a camera placed in the stomach and duodenum (endoscopy).

A provider may recommend an upper GI series, which involves drinking a liquid visible on X-ray images (barium). When the provider reviews the X-ray, the barium helps them identify any abnormalities and determine if your symptoms are due to peptic ulcers or something else.

How to Treat Peptic Ulcers

The treatment for peptic ulcers depends on their cause. For example, peptic ulcers caused by H. pylori are treated with antibiotics to eliminate the infection. In contrast, peptic ulcers caused by medication such as NSAIDs are treated by stopping that medication.

Sometimes peptic ulcers are caused by or made worse by stress, so learning relaxation techniques and making other lifestyle changes can help to treat the ulcers. Additional treatment options include medications such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers.

Can You Prevent a Peptic Ulcer?

Peptic ulcers can be prevented through lifestyle behaviors, including avoiding possible triggers. If you are concerned about developing a peptic ulcer, avoid smoking, using tobacco products, and drinking alcohol. To prevent peptic ulcers caused by H. pylori infection, wash your hands regularly and practice good hygiene while preparing food.

Stress and mental health challenges are also linked to worsening symptoms of peptic ulcers, so preventing and reducing stress and addressing mental health concerns are important.

Complications of Peptic Ulcers

Even though peptic ulcers are generally not a severe concern, they can lead to complications like perforations, holes that penetrate through the stomach lining or duodenum. Other possible complications include bleeding or a blockage in the passage of food through the digestive tract.

When to Seek Care for a Peptic Ulcer

It is important to seek care for peptic ulcers immediately for sharp pain that comes on suddenly, shock symptoms if your abdomen is hard or tender, or you notice blood in vomit or stool, or you are not able to pass gas or stool. These are all possible signs of a medical emergency that may require surgery. Medical professionals can determine the cause of the ulcers and provide treatment options.


Peptic ulcers are sores in the digestive tract caused by the use of medications (most commonly with the use of NSAIDs), or an infection from the Helicobacter pylori bacterium. Symptoms include abdominal discomfort or pain, feeling full or having hunger pains, and blood in vomit or stool.

Some people have no symptoms, and the condition is generally mild, but it can also lead to complications that require emergency medical treatment. Diagnosis requires an evaluation by a healthcare provider and sometimes additional testing to rule out other possible causes of symptoms.

16 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH
Dr. Ashley Olivine is a health psychologist and public health professional with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice. She has also researched a wide variety psychology and public health topics such as the management of health risk factors, chronic illness, maternal and child wellbeing, and child development.