An ulcer is an open sore (lesion). It’s normally found on the skin or mucous membranes.
A peptic ulcer is in the lining of the stomach or duodenum. A gastric ulcer is in the stomach. A duodenal ulcer is in the duodenum.
Experts used to believe that stress, diet, and stomach acid caused ulcers. Today, research shows that most ulcers form because of an infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria. Other factors play a role, but this germ is often the main cause of most ulcers.
The following factors may play a role in stomach or duodenal ulcers:
The greatest risk factor for gastric and duodenal ulcers is an H. pylori infection. Things that make an H. pylori infection more likely include:
Ulcers don’t always cause symptoms.
The most common symptom is a gnawing or burning pain in the stomach. This is often felt between the breastbone and the belly button (navel). Your child may feel the pain more between meals and in the early morning. It may last from a few minutes to a few hours.
Less common ulcer symptoms include:
The symptoms of ulcers may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Your child’s treatment will also depend on what’s causing his or her ulcer. For instance, ulcers caused by H. pylori need different treatment from ulcers caused by using NSAIDs.
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about his or her health history. He or she will also give your child an exam. Your child may need more tests before his or her ulcer is diagnosed.
This test looks at the organs in the upper part of your child’s digestive system. For this test, your child will swallow barium. This is a metallic liquid that coats the inside of his or her organs. This helps them show up on an X-ray better. Then your child’s healthcare provider will take an X-ray of these organs.
In this test, a small, flexible tube (endoscope) is used to look at the inside of your child’s digestive tract. This tube has a light and a camera lens at the end of it. During the test, the healthcare provider may take tissue samples from your child's digestive tract. The provider will test these samples.
These tests are done to look for H. pylori.
In the past, healthcare providers told people with ulcers to avoid spicy, fatty, or acidic foods. But healthcare providers now know this type of diet doesn’t help ulcers. In fact, no diet has shown to help people with ulcers. If it seems that certain foods make your child’s ulcer worse, talk with his or her healthcare provider.
Some children and teenagers smoke cigarettes. Parents don’t always know that their children smoke. Smoking slows the healing process of ulcers and causes ulcers to come back.
Your child may need to take medicine. If your child has H. pylori, he or she may need more than one medicine. Medicines used to treat ulcers include:
Most of the time, medicine heals ulcers and they don’t come back. In rare cases, people don’t respond to medicine and need surgery.
Your child could have severe complications if his or her ulcer isn’t treated well. The most common problems include:
Preventing H. pylori can reduce your child’s risk of ulcers. It isn’t fully understood how this infection is spread. But the following may lower your child’s risk of H. pylori:
Most people with stomach ulcers are cured with treatment. Work with your child’s healthcare provider to make a care plan for your child.
Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child has signs of an ulcer. These include a gnawing or burning pain in his or her stomach that happens between meals or in the morning.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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