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Peptic Ulcers

Peptic Ulcers

Medical knowledge regarding peptic ulcers has improved significantly over recent years, as doctors now have a greater understanding of how they are caused and effective methods of treatment. That is why if you have suffered from an undetected peptic ulcer, you may have some questions concerning your treatment, such as: Why did you fail to be diagnosed? Could subsequent complications have been prevented? And what action should you take next?

What is a Peptic Ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is an open sore that develops either on the inside of the stomach lining (called a 'gastric ulcer') or in the small intestine (called a 'duodenal ulcer'). Peptic ulcers may affect any age group, although they are more prevalent is those over 60 years old.

Peptic ulcers are largely caused in one of two ways:-

1. H. pylori bacteria
If H. pylori bacteria infect your stomach and small intestine, the protective mucus that lines these areas will become inflamed and swollen. Without this layer of protection, the acid present within your stomach will damage your stomach wall, causing an ulcer to develop. Additionally, if there is an excessive amount of stomach acid, this will flow in the duodenal area, promoting the chance of a duodenal ulcer.

2. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used to treat pain (such as period pain), inflammatory diseases and fever. However, if taken over a long period of time they can cause the same disruption as H. pylori bacteria, in that the protective mucus lining the stomach becomes damaged, resulting in a peptic ulcer.

The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is a burning pain in your stomach, which may worsen 2-5 hours after eating food or on an empty stomach. Although less frequent, other symptoms may include: vomiting, indigestion and heartburn and a loss of appetite.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Peptic Ulcers

If you suspect you may have a peptic ulcer, seek medical assistance without delay. Diagnosis is best made via the use of an endoscopy, whereby a thin flexible tube with a camera on the end is inserted through the mouth and into the stomach. If your GP suspects you are infected with H. pylori bacteria, it may also be necessary to carry out other tests such as a blood test, a urea breath test and a stool antigen test.

Should it be confirmed that a peptic ulcer is present, it must then be recognised how it was caused, as this will determine your treatment plan. If it has stemmed from H. pylori bacteria, you will be given antibiotics to kill the infection known as 'eradication treatment'. On the other hand, if you have suffered due to taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, you will need to take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for 1-2 months. These reduce the amount of acid within your stomach, therefore allowing the lining to heal.

Undetected Peptic Ulcers

If a patient has a peptic ulcer that remains undetected by medical professionals, a number of complications may ensue, such as:-

  • Internal bleeding in which an ulcer damages a blood vessel. This may cause a patient to vomit blood, pass 'tar-like' stools and have sharp pain in the abdomen.
  • Gastric obstruction whereby inflammation obstructs the passage of food through the digestive system. This may lead to symptoms such as vomiting and unexplained weight loss.
  • Perforation if the ulcer eats through the stomach wall, bacteria that live in the stomach will spread throughout the abdomen causing infection (called 'peritonitis').

All these complications have the potential to make a patient extremely unwell. That is why it is essential for doctors to diagnose and treat a peptic ulcer as quickly as possible, otherwise serious consequences may arise.

However, if peptic ulcer remains undetected, it may be that the medical team failed to do their utmost to make a correct diagnosis. For example, if the appropriate tests were not carried out, or if it was assumed you were suffering from a different condition. If this has happened to you, it is possible medical staff failed in their duty of care to you. A medical negligence solicitor will be able to advise you further, but if there has been a sub-standard level of care, you may be able to claim compensation.

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