A peptic ulcer describes an open sore or lesion found on the lining of the digestive tract. Peptic ulcers can occur on the lining of the stomach, known as gastric ulcers, or the lining of the upper portion of the small intestine, known as a duodenal ulcer. Although historically believed to be caused by spicy foods or stress, at least 80 percent of peptic ulcers occur due to an infection by the H. pylori bacteria, according to Johns Hopkins University. Symptoms of peptic ulcers range from mild to severe or even life-threatening. Peptic ulcer remedies, meaning medications or therapies that reduce pain or provide a cure, range from over-the-counter medications to surgery.
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Coat the Stomach
For a mild peptic ulcer, defined by Johns Hopkins University as those that produce one or two periods of symptoms per year, medications that coat the lining of the stomach can provide relief. The over-the-counter medication bismuth subsalicylate, commonly recognized as “the pink stuff," helps coat the stomach and prevent acid from irritating the ulcer. The prescription medication sucralfate binds to stomach acid and forms a paste-like material that acts like a buffer between the acid and the stomach lining containing the peptic ulcer.
Antacid describes a class of over-the-counter medications that neutralize stomach acid. Often taken as a remedy for heartburn, indigestion and sour stomach, antacids raise the pH of stomach acid, making it less irritating to the peptic ulcer. Common antacids include magnesium hydroxide, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium oxide, aluminum carbonate and aluminum hydroxide.
In contrast to antacids, which only change the pH of stomach acid, acid-reducing medications work to decrease the amount of stomach acid. Two types of acid-reducing medications exist: proton pump inhibitors and histamine-2 blockers.
Proton pump inhibitors shut down the production of acid by preventing the proton pumps that convert potassium into hydrogen from working. Proton pump inhibitors include both over-the-counter and prescription medications such as lansoprazole, omeprazole, esomeprazole and raberprazole.
The parietal cells in the lining of the stomach produce the stomach acid. A chemical produced by the body, known as histamine-2, attaches to receptors and triggers the production of stomach acid. Histamine-2 blockers prevent histamine from attaching to the parietal cells, therefore reducing the amount of acid produced. Available as either over-the-counter or prescription medications, histamine-2 blockers include ranitidine, famotidine, cimetidine and nizatidine.
Because a bacterial infection causes most peptic ulcers, taking prescription antibiotics, such as tetracycline or metronidazole, can help heal a peptic ulcer and prevent a recurrence.
Due to the effectiveness of medications, surgery is seldom needed to treat an ulcer except in the case of complications such as perforations or obstructions, according to the Merck Manual. Those who do not respond to medications may benefit from a laparoscopic surgical procedure such as a vagotomy, which cuts part of the vagus nerve interrupting messages to the brain and therefore reducing acid production; an antrectomy, which removes the lower part of the stomach where a hormone that stimulates acid production is produced; and pyloroplasty, which increases the opening from the stomach to the small intestine.