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Ulcers

 

An ulcer is a break in the lining of an organ’s surface.  Ulcers commonly occur in the gastrointestinal tract such as the mouth, stomach and intestine, and in the skin.      

 

Cause 

A Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium infection is responsible for approximately 90% of peptic (intestinal) ulcers, and 60% of stomach ulcers. The protective lining becomes inflamed, leading to swelling and pain. The lining also becomes thinner, therefore causing an ulcer. Ulcers can also be caused by medications or may be a sign of stomach cancer. Contrary to popular belief, ulcers are not caused by diet or stress.  

 

Skin ulcers, such as venous or pressure ulcers, are most frequently caused by poor circulation, and are commonly found in those who are bed-bound.      

 

Symptoms  

Symptoms of ulcers depend upon the type and location of the ulcer. Symptoms of gastric or peptic ulcers may include:  

  • Abdominal pain below your ribcage,  
  • Indigestion,  
  • Nausea and/or vomiting,  
  • Blood in vomit or faeces,  
  • Symptoms of anaemia such as light-headedness from blood loss, and/or  
  • Loss of appetite.      

 

Diagnosis  

Gastrointestinal ulcers can be diagnosed by:  

Endoscopy: A thin, flexible tube with an attached camera is placed down your mouth into your stomach to see if ulcers are present. If present, a biopsy is performed by taking a small tissue sample for testing.  

Breath test: You will be asked to swallow a substance containing urea, which is broken down into carbon dioxide and water to see if H. pylori is present. A machine will measure the amount of carbon dioxide produced in your breath; if over a certain level, it indicates that the bacterium is present.      

 

Skin ulcers are usually diagnosed by clinical examination.      

 

Treatment  

It is important to see your doctor for medical treatment for gastric ulcers to eliminate the bacterium infection. A follow-up breath test is recommended to ensure H. pylori has been successfully treated. Treatment is also available to reduce the amount of acid produced by your stomach. If you are a smoker, quitting is beneficial as smoking impairs the healing process of the protective lining.  

 

Treatment of skin ulcers depends upon the cause, location and severity.  The wound is usually cleaned to avoid infection, and special dressings used to compress and heal the ulcer.  Depending upon the ulcer, surgery may be required.      

 

Disclaimer  

The content displayed on this webpage is intended for informational purposes and is a guide only. It does not replace or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before making any decisions or taking any action based on the content of this webpage.  

 

Sources  

Better Health Channel http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Stomach_ulcer  

GastroNet http://www.gastro.net.au/diseases/pepticulcers.html  

Patient http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/venous-leg-ulcers-pro