This disorder is related to gastric ulcer (see STOMACH, DISEASES OF), both being a form of chronic peptic ulcer. Although becoming less frequent in western communities, peptic ulcers still aﬀect around 10 per cent of the UK population at some time. Duodenal ulcers are 10–15 times more common than gastric ulcers, and occur in people aged from 20 years onwards. The male to female ratio for duodenal ulcer varies between 4:1 and 2:1 in diﬀerent communities. Social class and blood groups are also inﬂuential, with duodenal ulcer being more common among the upper social classes, and those of blood group O.
Causes It is likely that there is some abrasion, or break, in the lining membrane (or mucosa) of the stomach and/or duodenum, and that it is gradually eroded and deepened by the acidic gastric juice. The bacterium helicobacter pylori is present in the antrum of the stomach of people with peptic ulcers; 15 per cent of people infected with the bacterium develop an ulcer, and the ulcers heal if H. pylori is eradicated. Thus, this organism has an important role in creating ulcers. Mental stress may possibly be a provocative factor. Smoking seems to accentuate, if not cause, duodenal ulcer, and the drinking of alcohol is probably harmful. The apparent association with a given blood group, and the fact that relatives of a patient with a peptic ulcer are unduly likely to develop such an ulcer, suggest that there is some constitutional factor.
Symptoms and signs Peptic ulcers may present in diﬀerent ways, but chronic, episodic pain lasting several months or years is most common. Occasionally, however, there may be an acute episode of bleeding or perforation, or obstruction of the gastric outlet, with little previous history. Most commonly there is pain of varying intensity in the middle or upper right part of the abdomen. It tends to occur 2–3 hours after a meal, most commonly at night, and is relieved by some food such as a glass of milk; untreated it may last up to an hour. Vomiting is unusual, but there is often tenderness and stiﬀness (‘guarding’) of the abdominal muscles. Conﬁrmation of the diagnosis is made by radiological examination (‘barium meal’), the ulcer appearing as a niche on the ﬁlm, or by looking at the ulcer directly with an endoscope (see FIBREOPTIC ENDOSCOPY). Chief complications are perforation of the ulcer, leading to the vomiting of blood, or HAEMATEMESIS; or less severe bleeding from the ulcer, the blood passing down the gut, resulting in dark, tarry stools (see MELAENA).
Treatment of a perforation involves initial management of any complications, such as shock, haemorrhage, perforation, or gastric outlet obstruction, usually involving surgery and blood replacement. Medical treatment of a chronic ulcer should include regular meals, and the avoidance of fatty foods, strong tea or coﬀee and alcohol. Patients should also stop smoking and try to reduce the stress in their lives. ANTACIDS may provide symptomatic relief. However, the mainstay of treatment involves four- to six-week courses with drugs such as CIMETIDINE and RANITIDINE. These are H2 RECEPTOR ANTAGONISTS which heal peptic ulcers by reducing gastric-acid output. Of those relapsing after stopping this treatment, 60–95 per cent have infection with H. pylori. A combination of BISMUTH chelate, amoxycillin (see PENICILLIN; ANTIBIOTICS) and METRONIDAZOLE – ‘triple regime’ – should eliminate the infection: most physicians advise the triple regime as ﬁrst-choice treatment because it is more likely to eradicate Helicobacter and this, in turn, enhances healing of the ulcer or prevents recurrence. Surgery may be necessary if medical measures fail, but its use is much rarer than before eﬀective medical treatments were developed.