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An ulcer is an eroded area of skin or mucous membrane. In common usage, however, ulcer usually refers to disorders in the upper digestive tract. The terms ulcer, gastric ulcer, and peptic ulcer are often used interchangeably. Peptic ulcers can develop in the lower part of the esophagus, the stomach, the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum), and the second part of the small intestine (the jejunum).
It is estimated that 2% of the adult population in the United States has active digestive ulcers, and that about 10% will develop ulcers at some point in their lives. There are about 500,000 new cases in the United States every year, with as many as 4 million recurrences. The male/female ratio for digestive ulcers is 3:1.
The most common forms of digestive ulcer are duodenal and gastric. About 80% of all digestive ulcers are duodenal ulcers. This type of ulcer may strike people in any age group but is most common in males between the ages of 20 and 45. The incidence of duodenal ulcers has dropped over the past 30 years. Gastric ulcers account for about 16% of digestive ulcers. They are most common in males between the ages of 55 and 70. The most common cause of gastric ulcers is the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. The current widespread use of NSAIDs is thought to explain why the incidence of gastric ulcers in the United States is rising.
There are three major causes of digestive ulcers: infection; certain medications; and disorders that cause oversecretion of stomach juices.
HELICOBACTER PYLORI INFECTION. Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium that lives in the mucous tissues that line the digestive tract. Infection with H. pylori is the most common cause of duodenal ulcers. About 95% of patients with duodenal ulcers are infected with H. pylori, as opposed to only 70% of patients with gastric ulcers.
USE OF NONSTEROIDAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRUGS (NSAIDS). Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are painkillers that many people use for headaches, sore muscles, arthritis, and menstrual cramps. Many NSAIDs are available without prescriptions. Common NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), flurbiprofen (Ansaid, Ocufen), ketoprofen (Orudis), and indomethacin (Indacin). Chronic NSAID users have 40 times the risk of developing a gastric ulcer as nonusers. Users are also three times more likely than nonusers to develop bleeding or fatal complications of ulcers. Aspirin is the most likely NSAID to cause ulcers.
Author Info: Belinda Rowland, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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