What are the Causes of Peptic Ulcers?

The direct cause of peptic ulcers is the destruction of the gastric or intestinal mucosal lining of the stomach by hydrochloric acid, an acid normally present in the digestive juices of the stomach. Infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori is thought to play an important role in causing both gastric and duodenal ulcers. Helicobacter pylori may be transmitted from person to person through contaminated food and water. Antibiotics are the most effective treatment for Helicobacter pylori peptic ulcers.

For many years, excess acid was believed to be the major cause of ulcer disease. Accordingly, treatment emphasis was on neutralizing and inhibiting the secretion of stomach acid. While acid is still considered significant in ulcer formation, the leading cause of ulcer disease is currently believed to be infection of the stomach by a bacteria called “Helicobacter pyloridus” (H. pylori). Another major cause of ulcers is the chronic use of anti-inflammatory medications, commonly referred to as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), including aspirin.

Your body makes strong acids that digest food. A lining protects the inside of your stomach and duodenum from these acids. If the lining breaks down, the acids can damage the walls. Both H. pylori and NSAIDs weaken the lining so acid can reach the stomach or duodenal wall.

Some people who have peptic ulcers can eat whatever they want with no problems. For many others, however, eating certain foods can cause irritation, excessive acid production, and heartburn. For them, they need to know what foods are safe, and what foods to avoid. They need to know how to prepare foods to avoid ingredients that will cause a flare-up of their symptoms. If you are a ulcer patient and need to make some dietary changes, the following resources will get you started.

Almost all peptic ulcers occur in people taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or those infected with Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori). NSAIDs are anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. H. Pylori is a bacterium that has adapted to living on the surface lining of the stomach. H. Pylori and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories impair the ability of the stomach and duodenum to protect themselves from acid and pepsin and are thus predisposed to ulcer formation.

H. pylori lives and multiplies within the mucous layer that covers and protects tissues that line the stomach and small intestine. Often, H. pylori causes no problems. But sometimes it can disrupt the mucous layer and inflame the lining of the stomach or duodenum, producing an ulcer. One reason may be that people who develop peptic ulcers already have damage to the lining of the stomach or small intestine, making it easier for bacteria to invade and inflame tissues.

Besides peptic ulcer’s main causes, several predisposing factors are acknowledged. They include blood type (gastric ulcers tend to strike people with type A blood; duodenal ulcers tend to afflict people with type O blood) and other genetic factors. Exposure to irritants, such as alcohol, coffee, and tobacco, may contribute by accelerating gastric acid emptying and promoting mucosal breakdown. Ulceration occurs when the acid secretion exceeds the buffering factors. Physical trauma, emotional stress, and normal aging are additional predisposing conditions.

Emotional stress is no longer thought to be a cause of ulcers, but people who are experiencing emotional stress often report increased pain of existing ulcers. Physical stress, however, is different. It can increase the risk of developing ulcers, especially in the stomach. Examples of physical stress that can lead to ulcers are that suffered by people with injuries such as severe burns, and people undergoing major surgery.