A burning sensation: ulcers

Peptic ulcer disease (also known as PUD) occurs when the strong acids and digestive juices normally present in the stomach damage the inside of the stomach or small intestine. This can happen when the protective mucus layer wears away in certain areas, causing ulcers (sores or lesions). There are two main types of peptic ulcers, named according to their location:

  • Gastric ulcers are sores in the stomach. This type of ulcer occurs equally among men and women and develops most commonly between the ages of 55 and 65. Pain from gastric ulcers is usually worst after eating a meal. Antacids can relieve the pain of gastric ulcers.
  • Duodenal ulcers occur in the upper part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. This type of ulcer was once more common in men, but is now equally prevalent in both genders. It is more common with age. Pain from duodenal ulcers typically occurs when the stomach is empty (e.g., at night or between meals). It may last a number of weeks and then temporarily go away. Food and antacids can often relieve this kind of pain.

The most common symptom of PUD is a gnawing or burning pain in the abdomen, between the breastbone and navel, sometimes passed off as "heartburn." An ulcer can also feel like a dull ache or strong hunger pangs with belching and bloating. The pain may be worse when you are hungry and may improve with a small meal. More serious PUD (typically poorly treated or untreated PUD) can lead to nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, weight loss, bloody vomit, or black, tarry stools. Some people, especially the elderly, may not feel any pain from an ulcer. Other medical conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and cancers of the stomach or esophagus, can also cause similar symptoms.

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