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What is an Intestinal Ulcer?

By Steve R.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An intestinal ulcer is a painful, open wound that forms in the wall of the intestine. While ulcers can usually be treated with medication, in some cases the intestinal ulcer can bleed or rip open. Ulcers are a common condition that affects one out of 10 people. Intestinal ulcers are five times more common than stomach ulcers.

Symptoms of an intestinal ulcer may differ between people, but the most common indicator is a sharp, burning pain in the abdomen, just below the breastbone. The burning pain comes and goes but is prevalent in between meals and in the early morning. The length of pain can vary from minutes to hours.

A person with an ulcer will often experience stomach problems such as nausea and vomiting. Blood may appear in the vomit or bowel movements will be visibly dark. Other symptoms of an ulcer include lack of appetite, weight loss, and sluggishness.

The main culprit for ulcers is not spicy foods or stress, but the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, commonly referred to as H. pylori. The bacterium is found inside the lining of the stomach and intestine. Sometimes H. pylori can disturb the lining of the stomach or the duodenum, which is the beginning of the small intestine. This causes the body to produce more acid, leading to an ulcer.

The use of nonseteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may trigger ulcers. Pain relief medicines such as ibuprofen and aspirin, and even some heartburn medications, can actually cause the stomach to be susceptible to the over production of acid. Nonseteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can prevent the secretion of an enzyme that protects the lining of the stomach and intestine.

Other factors may play a role in developing ulcers. The use of nicotine raises the amount of acid produced in the stomach. Overuse of alcohol can also deteriorate the lining of the stomach and create an overabundance of acid.

Treatment for an intestinal ulcer may vary depending on age, overall health, and the extent of the ulcer. Ulcers can often be curbed with medication. Depending on the cause, medicine can be prescribed that lowers the level of acid produced in the body, shields the lining of the intestines, and kills H. pylori.

Acid can be reduced by the use of proton pump inhibitors. Medication is given that wards off acid-producing cells. This type of medication is often taken a half hour before meals. Not as strong as proton pump inhibitors, H2 receptor blockers also lower the amount of acid produced internally.

Medication that protects the lining of the stomach and intestine include antacids and sucralfate. To kill the H. pylori bacterium, antibiotics are often prescribed for two weeks. In most cases, an ulcer will disappear in a matter of weeks with treatment. If medication does not relieve the ulcer, surgery may be needed.

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.
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