Identifying and Treating Different Types of Ulcers

An ulcer is a type of wound. These wounds have a crater-like appearance and can develop outside or inside the body. Ulcers develop when tissue erodes, which has a variety of causes. Thankfully, treatment exists for all types of ulcers. 

This article looks at the different types of ulcers, their symptoms, and how healthcare providers typically treat them. 

Woman touching stomach painful suffering from stomachache

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Types of Ulcers

Arterial

These are also known as ischemic ulcers. They are skin ulcers that develop due to circulation issues. When there’s not enough blood flow, damage can result and lead to the formation of a wound called an arterial ulcer.

Venous

Like arterial ulcers, venous ulcers also affect the skin, and they’re very common. They develop on the lower legs and are sometimes called stasis leg ulcers or varicose ulcers. 

Mouth

Canker sores are a common type of ulcer that forms inside the mouth. Most of the time, canker sores aren’t anything to worry about, but some conditions can make you more prone to developing them.

Genital

Genital ulcers or sores develop in the area around the penis, vagina, anus, or nearby skin. 

Peptic

A peptic ulcer is an ulcer that forms inside your body, specifically in your stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). 

Symptoms

Arterial

Symptoms of arterial ulcers include:

  • Open sores that are black, red, or yellow
  • Pain 
  • Pain that’s worse at night 
  • Sore that doesn’t bleed
  • Area that is cold to the touch due to a lack of circulation

Venous

Signs of a venous ulcer include:

  • Dark purple or red skin 
  • Thickened skin
  • Excessively dry skin 
  • Itching 
  • Dull aching 
  • Swelling 
  • Varicose veins (bulging and twisted surface veins)

Mouth

The main symptom of a canker sore is pain. You may also experience:

  • Pain that worsens when eating certain foods, especially those high in acid
  • Trouble chewing without pain

Genital

Because the skin in this area is sensitive, genital ulcers can be painful. They may also seep fluid. 

Peptic

Not everyone who has a peptic ulcer will experience symptoms. If you do, some symptoms may include:

  • A dull burning or gnawing pain in the abdomen
  • Bloating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Burping 
  • Nausea

You may experience pain that comes and goes or is worse on an empty stomach.

Ulcer Complications

Complications depend on the type of ulcer. Gastric ulcers, for example, can lead to internal bleeding if left untreated. And untreated arterial ulcers can lead to severe infections. 

Causes

Arterial

A common cause of arterial ulcers is peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition of narrowing of arteries outside of the heart (often affecting the legs). But anything that causes poor circulation can increase your risk of developing arterial ulcers, including:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney failure
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries due to a buildup of plaque)
  • Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels)
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol 

Venous

You’re more likely to develop this type of ulcer if you:

  • Are a woman
  • Are an older adult
  • Have obesity
  • Have experienced previous leg trauma
  • Have a clotting disorder
  • Are pregnant
  • Have close family members who have varicose veins
  • Are a smoker
  • Eat a poor diet
  • Drink excessively 
  • Have deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in a large vein)

Mouth

Experts don’t know why some people are more likely to develop mouth ulcers. 

Some things that may increase your risk, including:

  • Having family members who are also prone to canker sores
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Stress 
  • Changes in hormones 
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Mouth injuries

Genital

Many genital ulcers are the result of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as:

But you can also develop sores around the genitals because of:

  • Trauma
  • Allergic reactions 
  • Inflammatory conditions

Peptic

You’re more likely to develop a peptic ulcer if you:

Some types of cancer can also cause stomach ulcers.

Treatment

Arterial

Arterial ulcers are considered chronic ulcers because they can take long to heal due to poor circulation. 

Because this type of open wound is prone to infection, healthcare providers will usually recommend antibiotics. However, antibiotic treatment won’t heal the damaged skin. Keeping the wound clean is also essential. 

Treatment for arterial ulcers involves treating the root cause of poor circulation. In some cases, this may require surgery.

Venous

Like arterial ulcers, treatment for this type of ulcer involves improving circulation. Compression therapy, such as wearing compression stockings or a compression dressing, is a common method for improving circulation and preventing venous ulcers. 

Mouth

Most mouth ulcers go away on their own and don’t require treatment. But you can relieve symptoms using over-the-counter (OTC) solutions like mouthwashes and oral gels. 

Genital

Treatment for genital ulcers depends on the cause. For example, if the issue is an allergic reaction or physical friction, you can stop using the item or substance causing irritation.

It’s important to see a healthcare provider if you suspect you have an STI. Untreated STIs can lead to complications, and you run the risk of spreading the condition to your sexual partners. 

Peptic

If you have a stomach ulcer, your healthcare provider may:

  • Recommend you stop taking NSAIDs
  • Recommend an alternative to NSAIDs
  • Prescribe medication to protect your stomach lining and reduce the production of stomach acid 
  • Prescribe a medication to fight an H. pylori infection

Summary 

Ulcers are open sores or wounds caused by the erosion of tissue. Several types of ulcers include arterial, venous, mouth, genital, and peptic ulcers. Some ulcers, like canker sores, go away on their own, while others require treatment. It’s important to treat ulcers to avoid complications like infection or internal bleeding. 

A Word From Verywell

If you have open sores on your body, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider. Open sores around the genitals may be a sign of an STI. Open sores that don’t heal can also signify an underlying condition and put you at risk for complications like infection.

Don’t ignore what your body is telling you. If you have a recurring dull, aching pain in your abdomen, that might be a sign of a stomach ulcer. Untreated stomach ulcers can cause serious complications if they eat away at enough tissue and cause a perforation or hole in your stomach.

Anytime you notice something unusual going on with your body, that’s a sign you should talk to a healthcare provider. As with many conditions, early diagnosis and treatment of ulcers can help you avoid long-term complications. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How are ulcers diagnosed?

    This depends on the type of ulcer. Visual cues can usually help healthcare providers diagnose skin ulcers like venous or arterial ulcers. For stomach ulcers, additional testing is required since these can't be seen without imaging tools. 

  • Will ulcers go away on their own?

    Mouth ulcers will go away on their own, but other ulcers require treatment. 

  • How do you tell the difference between a stomach ulcer and a peptic ulcer?

    A stomach ulcer is a type of peptic ulcer and include duodenal ulcers, ulcers in the first part of the small intestine).

7 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.
  1. Center for Advanced Cardiac and Vascular Interventions (CACVI). Arterial leg ulcers

  2. Informed Health. Canker sores (mouth ulcers): overview

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Symptoms & causes of peptic ulcers (stomach ulcers).

  4. UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. Venous ulcers.

  5. American Family Physician. Genital ulcers: What causes them? 

  6. Vascular Society. Arterial ulcer.

  7. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Treatment for peptic ulcers (stomach ulcers)