Do I really have an ulcer?

You may believe, as you carry a bottle of Tums around your office, that your job is giving you an ulcer. That’s probably not true, says Suresh Mahajan, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff of Southwest General. “Mental or emotional stress is not normally a cause of peptic ulcers,” Dr. Mahajan says. “Another misperception is that ulcers are caused by spicy foods. That also is untrue.” In reality, he says, the H.pylori bacterium, and anti-inflammatory medications—like Advil or Motrin—are among the most prominent culprits that cause peptic ulcers. Below, Dr. Mahajan explains more.

Q. What is a peptic ulcer?
A. A peptic ulcer refers to an ulcer, or sore, in the lining of the stomach, or in the lining of the duodenum—the first part of the small intestine. Stomach ulcers also are called gastric ulcers. A peptic ulcer can be superficial, or it can penetrate deep into the lining. Between 5 and 10 percent of people will have an ulcer sometime in their lives, and the risk increases with age.

Q. What causes a peptic ulcer?
A. Peptic ulcers are thought to be caused by excess acid or an imbalance of digestive fluids in the stomach, the H.pylori bacterium, or the use of anti-inflammatory medications commonly used for conditions like arthritis.

Q. What are the symptoms?
A. Sometimes there are no symptoms, but the most common symptoms are sharp or burning abdominal pain or heartburn. Other symptoms can include tenderness in the abdomen, or, in the case of an ulcer that has perforated the stomach or duodenum, you may vomit blood or have blood in your stool.

Q. How are ulcers diagnosed?
A. An ulcer can be detected with an endoscopy—or “upper GI”—but your doctor often can diagnose an ulcer based on your symptoms.

Q. How are ulcers treated?
A. Some ulcers heal on their own, especially if you stop using anti-inflammatory medication. Other treatments include antibiotics or antacids like Prilosec, Nexium, or Zantac. In the most complicated cases, surgery may be needed.

You can schedule an appointment with Dr. Mahajan by calling 440-816-2789. His office is located at Southwest General Health Center, 7255 Old Oak Blvd., Suite C101, in Middleburg Heights.