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What is a Duodenal Ulcer?

By D. Jeffress
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

A duodenal ulcer is a lesion that appears on the inner lining of the duodenum, the upper section of the small intestine. Ulcers are essentially areas of eroded tissue that have been damaged by bacteria, stomach acids, or certain medications. Duodenal ulcers are most common in older adults, though they can potentially occur at any age. Doctors can usually treat ulcers with medications or simple surgical procedures. If a duodenal ulcer goes untreated, however, it can lead to extensive internal blood loss and severe health complications.

Most duodenal ulcers are caused by a particular type of bacteria, called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). When the bacteria is present in large quantities, it eats away the mucous membrane that lines the duodenum. An ulcer can also emerge if a person regularly takes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Increases in stomach acid from smoking and alcohol use have also been linked to duodenal ulcers.

Many people who have duodenal ulcers do not experience any physical symptoms. When symptoms are present, a person may notice abdominal pain, nausea, and occasional feelings of fatigue. Less commonly, an individual can experience vomiting, abnormally dark or tarry stools, and changes in appetite. As an ulcer grows, symptoms tend to worsen and become chronic. A person who believes he or she may have an ulcer should schedule an appointment with a doctor to receive a thorough evaluation.

A primary care physician who suspects a duodenal ulcer usually takes a blood sample to check for H. pylori and to rule out other possible causes of the patient's symptoms. After an initial inspection, the patient may be referred to a gastroenterologist for further testing. The specialist can take an abdominal x-ray or a computerized tomography scan to look for abnormalities of the duodenum. An endoscopy procedure may be conducted to confirm a diagnosis, during which a flexible tube containing a fiber optic camera is inserted down the throat. The camera is directed to the duodenum, so the gastroenterologist can clearly see an ulcer.

Treatment for a duodenal ulcer depends on its size, accompanying symptoms, and the underlying cause. Oral antibiotics and prescription antacids can resolve most ulcers in about six weeks. Surgical care may be necessary if excessive bleeding occurs or if a duodenal ulcer does not respond to medications. Following treatment, patients are usually instructed to maintain healthy diets and avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption to prevent future gastrointestinal problems. In addition, doctors can provide information about alternatives to NSAIDs to reduce the risk of a recurring duodenal ulcer.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On Aug 03, 2012
@burcinc-- As far as I know, it can be dangerous. Because food matter will release into the abdomen opening and it will be toxic to the body. If that happens, doctors have to operate and close the opening.

Your dad should definitely follow the diet and keep away from things that will make his ulcer worse. Do you know what caused his ulcer in the first place? If it is bacteria, he can heal his ulcers just with medications.

I had duodenal stomach ulcer because of a bacteria called helicobacter pylori. I was diagnosed with it after a year of suffering from ulcers. There is a new breath test now that you just breathe into and they can tell which bacteria is found in your stomach.

After the diagnosis, I took lots of antibiotics to kill the bacteria, followed by antacids. My ulcers healed themselves once the bacteria was gone.

By burcinc — On Aug 03, 2012

If duodenal ulcer keeps getting worse, eventually the tissue will erode so much that it will rupture correct?

What happens when that's the case? Is it really dangerous?

My dad has been diagnosed with duodenal ulcer. I'm really worried about him but he isn't making a big deal of it. He takes his prescribed medications, but he doesn't really follow the duodenal ulcer diet. I'm not sure if the medications will be enough for him to get better.

By ysmina — On Aug 02, 2012

Aside from alcohol, smoking and pain-relievers, certain foods that cause acid make duodenal ulcer symptoms worse too.

I've been suffering from duodenal ulcers for a while now. In the beginning, I used to enjoy alcohol and I smoked too. I don't do either now, but I still have a lot of discomfort, nausea, bloating and cramps, especially when I eat something I shouldn't.

Spicy and fried, oily foods are the worst! They increase the pain and nausea tenfold! So does things like coffee, tea, chocolate, lemon juice, vinegar and tomatoes. I've had to cut out all of these foods from my diet. And I still have to take antacid medications to keep things under control.

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