What are the complications of peptic ulcers?
Gastrointestinal bleeding is one of the most serious complications of ulcers. It results when the ulcer erodes into a blood vessel in the wall of the stomach or duodenum. The common signs of bleeding include vomiting fresh, bright red blood or passing bloody or tarry, black stools. Pepto Bismol, often taken for relief of ulcer symptoms, may also cause black
discoloration of the stools. In the case of severe hemorrhage, weakness, fatigue, loss of consciousness and or shock may result.
Another serious ulcer complication is perforation. This can develop as stomach acid erodes through the intestinal wall and spills into the abdominal cavity. The first sign of perforation is sudden, intense, steady abdominal pain. Ulcer perforation leads to the leakage of gastric contents into the abdominal (peritoneal) cavity, resulting in acute peritonitis (infection of the abdominal cavity). These patients report a sudden onset of extreme abdominal pain, which is worsened by any type of motion. Abdominal muscles become rigid and board-like. Urgent surgery is usually required.
A third complication of ulcers is obstruction of the digestive tract, usually at the junction of the stomach and duodenum, as old ulcer scars accumulate and narrow the passageway through this area. As a result, food and fluid passing from the stomach to the duodenum may be restricted or blocked altogether, producing a distended stomach (from retained food and secretions), intense pain, and continued vomiting. The obstruction usually occurs at or near the pyloric canal. The pyloric canal is a naturally narrow part of the stomach as it joins the upper part of the small intestine called the duodenum. Upper endoscopy is useful in establishing the diagnosis and excluding gastric cancer as the cause of the obstruction.